Last weekend, severe frosts were recorded in the stone fruit producing areas of Lleida and Huesca, in Spain. While temperatures fell below 0ºC during the nights of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the most severe and longest frost was the one on the night of Saturday. The sector's prospects for the campaign had been great, given the excellent flowering of the fruit trees, but this first adverse weather event in the months prior to the harvest may change everything.
The damage caused by these frosts is severe, according to producers and agricultural organizations, not only because of the flowers that have been lost, but also because of the impact they could have on the quality of the fruit. Although there is still a long way to go before the harvest and more unforeseen weather events could be recorded, the volumes expected after this event could come close to last year's -when they were down by about 30%-, or fall even more.
"Although frosts have affected most of the province of Lleida, the northern areas seem to be the most severely hit, as they are closer to the Pyrenees and farther from the Ebro River. In the south of Lleida there is more disparity; some plots there have been heavily affected, while others have simply had a kind of extra thinning," says Francesc Pena, manager of Sat Bepa, a producing and exporting company based in the municipality of Seròs, in the Baix Segre region of Lleida.
"Temperatures have dropped as low as -5ºC in some of our producing areas. It has been very cold for too many hours, so it is difficult to save the fruit," says Pere Magrí, manager of the nursery Viversa and the production and marketing company Tros Nou, of Almenar, in the north of Lleida. "Between 80 and 90% of our production has been directly hit by these frosts, which have been especially strong in the early hours of Saturday to Sunday. We have lost practically all the apricot production and much of the peaches, nectarines and flat peaches," says the producer and exporter. I estimate that, in general, Lleida's next apricot production may have already been reduced by about 50%, since it is in a more advanced phenological stage than other species."
"I have many years of experience in stone fruit growing," said the 61-year-old grower. "After these frosts, part of the flowers that have survived could have problems later, during the fruit setting, and this would be reflected in the quality of the fruit. Normally, fruit continues to fall until the beginning of the harvest," said Pere Magrí.
The frosts in Huesca and Lleida have coincided with the week of frosts that hit Italy, both in apple and pear and in stone fruit producing areas, such as Emilia Romagna, whose production calendar is similar to that of Lleida.
"This weekend, Lleida producers have remained on guard, given the forecast of frosts, which have turned out to be quite intense. Many producers have effective anti-freeze sprinkler systems and I hope this has helped reduce the extent of the damage," says Manel Simón, director of L'associació Empressarial de Fruita de Catalunya, AFRUCAT.
"We have received calls from producers reporting damage from every producing area of Lleida, so it has been one of the most widespread frosts that we remember in the province. In the next two weeks, we will know more details and we will be able to estimate how severe these frosts have been on those flowers that had already closed and set, and also how the fruit development is going. We know, however, that the harvest will be reduced," says the representative of AFRUCAT. The stone fruit harvest kicks off in mid-June in Lleida and lasts until September.
In the Bajo Cinca region, in the province of Huesca, producers have dealt with the frost with sprinklers and fans in order to minimize damage. In certain areas of the municipalities of Belver de Cinca and Fraga, the temperatures dropped to -4 °C. The most affected crops are cherries and apricots, according to Oscar Moret, head of the fruit department of the Union of Farmers and Ranchers of Aragon (Uaga).
Antifreeze systems have also been used in the fruit growing areas of the Zaragoza region of Calatayud, including kerosene candles. The temperatures there have also fallen below zero degrees, dropping as low as -3.5 °C.