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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Southern Farmers Worry About Damage From Cold

(Wikimedia Commons)

Satsumas are seedless mandarin oranges native to Japan. (Wikimedia Commons)

Citrus groves in Florida escaped most of the threat from the polar vortex, but farmers further north are worried.

Art Sessions, owner of Sessions Farm in Grand Bay, Alabama, has been icing his Satsuma trees in order to try to save them from the cold.

He joins Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti.

Guest

  • Art Sessions, owner of sessions farms in Grand Bay, Alabama.

Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. In a few minutes, the politics of poverty.

CHAKRABARTI: But first, that frigid polar vortex over much of the country is easing a little today, but farmers are facing long-term damage. Cattle prices are going up as the animals struggle to gain weight because of the cold, and citrus groves in Florida escaped most of the harm, but farmers elsewhere in the Southeast are worried.

Art Sessions is one of them. He's owner of Sessions Farm in Grand Bay, Alabama, where he grows vegetables and satsumas, a type of mandarin orange. Mr. Sessions, welcome.

ART SESSIONS: Well, thank you for calling.

CHAKRABARTI: So first of all, tell us, what's it like outside on the farm today?

SESSIONS: This morning we've been out surveying. We have a lot of ice. And this is kind of unprecedented territory we're in. You know, we grow a lot of different things, but citrus is one of our big crops that we're concerned about this morning.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, has the cold already damaged your trees and particularly the satsuma trees?

SESSIONS: Yes. You know, how bad we don't know. You know, trees that don't have any protection are severely damaged, I would think. We have approximately 4,000 trees. Of course we're in the commercial business, and we have frost protection on ours. And the trees are covered with ice this morning. We'll have some damage. You know, probably next year's crop will be impacted greatly.

You know, we'll probably lose some trees. And it's hard to tell until everything thaws out. You know, a couple of weeks we can tell more about it. But the trees that are not protected on the coast, there's going to be a lot of dead trees, a lot of dead wood. So you know, you're looking at a lot of lost income, you know, area-wide, you know.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, I'm seeing here that you've been deliberating icing some of the trees in order to protect them. Is that right?

SESSIONS: That's right, yeah. We spray water on them. It forms a barrier around the trunk so the tree, the base of the tree, it forms a layer of insulation around the tree, and it won't get no colder than like 32 degrees, and that's as cool as the tree will get. It doesn't bother them at that temperature. We don't get much damage until it gets below 22.

We try to save the tree. We may lose the crop, next year's crop, but we try to save the tree.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, so when will you know how badly damaged the crop has been?

SESSIONS: When the trees thaw out, in about a week, you know, we'll see how many leaves drop off. And if we don't lose too many leaves, it won't be hurt too bad. But we'll know March and April, when they bloom, you know. And we'll know sooner than that, when the weather warms up, and we see if we have much die back on the limbs. The limbs will turn brown, and then we'll have to go in there and prune and everything. We'll know pretty quick.

CHAKRABARTI: Mr. Sessions, I'm curious, have you ever seen cold like this in Grand Bay?

SESSIONS: Not too many times. We have, you know, but, you know, I've been here all my life, and I'm 64. So it's kind of uncharted territory, area-wide, you know, across the Southeast. It's been pretty bad.

CHAKRABARTI: Art Sessions is owner of Sessions Farm in Grand Bay, Alabama. Thank you so much for joining us today.

SESSIONS: Pleasure to be there, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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