Local farmers weathering freezing temperatures

Cold weather producing challenges for agriculture

Local farmers weathering freezing temperatures

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. - Winter has finally arrived on the Central Coast, producing temperatures below freezing in some places.

"When we got here, everything had frost on it, even the ground was a blanket of ice," said Talley Farms crop production manager Marcus Hunt. 

At Talley Farms, just east of Arroyo Grande, temperatures fell below 29 degrees.

"It was definitely cold enough to freeze everything," Hunt said. "The peas took the hardest hit. The pods swell up because the water expands as it freezes and it makes the produce cosmetically not acceptable and also unpickable until the frost melts off because you'll bruise the product."

Talley Farms grows a wide variety of crops, including grapes, avocados and lemons. 

Ryan Talley, a partner with the business, said those permanent crops can be susceptible to damage in cold weather.

However, after an early morning check, it appears the farm did not suffer any significant loss.

"Everything looks fine," said Talley. "It's a matter of time to tell what sort of damage occurs, but these one or two of low temperatures don't really have a dramatic affect. It's the long run, a week or two weeks of sustained cold that gets us."

Hunt said many of the farm's crops, such as hard, spinach, broccoli, arugula and mini romaine lettuce are actually able to fight off cold weather.

"The have a natural mechanism for anti-freeze," said Hunt. "So the plant will actually crinkle and release the water to prevent the cells from being damaged by the water freezing inside the cell."

For crops, such as peas, which don't have an ability to fight off the cold, they'll be covered with a dusting of sulfur.

"That will insulate the plants somewhat to keep it protect from the frost," said Hunt. "That will give it a little coating to keep it insulated."

In addition, another way the farm can help protect its crops is create movement in the air.

"In the event of cold weather like this, we'll turn on fans," Talley said. "As long as there is movement, when you have the cold temperatures, then you're fine."

Over at the Talley Vineyards, dramatic icicles formed after the early morning freeze. However, Talley said it wasn't too much of a concern.

"It is a little early to tell on the vineyard side, but that water out on the plants and the icicles isn't necessarily a bad thing," said Talley. "It helps protest against the cold, dry weather."

The freezing temperatures comes just days after the area experienced record-setting temperatures. 

According to Talley, temperatures climbed to almost 90 degrees only two weeks ago.

The large fluctuation in temperatures, from the upper 80's to upper 20's is a 60 degrees swing, which can present challenges 

"It really send a plant into shock, which will tend to make a plant bolt," Talley said. 'When that bolting occurs basically the plants go to seed and that makes the plants that you're growing unmarketable." 

While the cold temperatures is presenting come challenges, there are benefits as well.

Talley said the freezing weather helps with pest control, which will be a huge benefit when spring comes around.

"When you have some good cold nights, it naturally kills off the pests and so it disrupts the cycle that they're on," said Talley.

With the National Weather Service issuing a hard freeze warning for at least one more night, both Talley and Hunt will continue to be on their toes until warmer weather arrives.

"Weather the chilling temperatures and do the best that you can do," said Hunt.

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