2020 – A year to forget… and remember

It goes without saying that 2020 will long be remembered. A once-in-a-century pandemic, the economic collapse, political and social unrest… they all contributed to a pretty ugly year.

What many people won’t remember from all the chaos is more record-setting weather here in the mid-Atlantic. The strange pattern started at the beginning of the year with the sixth warmest winter on record, with record daily highs in January, abnormally cool April, with a record cold day on May 9, followed by a very dry July with a single rainfall that dropped a month’s worth of precipitation in less than an hour, the hottest summer on record, and culminated in December with a record span of days without snow. That’s a lot of extremes in one paragraph.

As you might guess, this kind of volatility is not good for farmers, especially specialty crop growers like me. Our apricots bloomed this year in early March, but lacked the heat they needed to fully develop. We lost them all by May. We lost more than half of our strawberry and cherry production in the April freeze. Our peaches made it through an April frost only to lose 2/3 of the crop to the record May freeze. Even with the record warmth over the winter, our apples bloomed late, but most of the crop was lost to the freeze in April. The apple loss was especially interesting because the low temperature observed that night was actually in a range that the academic literature suggested was survivable; however, the trees were so stressed from “waiting” for the warm weather that many otherwise viable buds were lost.

As the summer progressed we started seeing summertime losses too. Our sweet corn this year was irrigated and well-maintained. Customers may have noticed that it was perhaps the sweetest corn we’ve ever grown; but what they didn’t see was that the yield was down and some ears misshapen because of extreme heat.

We lost not one, but two plantings of kiwiberries this year. The first was lost to the May freeze (despite row coverings), and the second was apparently lost to drought over the summer. I blame myself for the second loss for not putting the same energy into irrigation under the plants, as I did for the trellis above them. Live and Learn.

All this is to say that 2020 was a very tough growing year.

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