"Extreme" frost wipes out much of Belgium's tree fruit crop

A prolonged hard frost in Belgium's main fruit-growing region last week has had a devastating effect on crops, according to its main grower body.

Frost-damaged sweet cherry blossom - image: Eric Hoffmann (CC BY ND 2.0)
Frost-damaged sweet cherry blossom - image: Eric Hoffmann (CC BY ND 2.0)

Flanders' Boerenbond (Farmers' League) reported that in the night of 19-20 April, "the cold snap was much stronger than forecasts had predicted".

In south Limburg, the "Haspengouw" region which produces more than half of Belgium's tree fruit, temperatures reached -6°C - the worst blossom-time frosts for over 25 years, coinciding with blossom that was two weeks early.

Deploying braziers, heat blowers, fans and even helicopters, growers "battled all night to limit the damage, but couldn't prevent this year's harvest being hit", Boerenbond said.

Having since assessed the damage, it estimates that 78% of the apple harvest will be lost. "In the tree tops and on new growth, apples could still develop, but with deformities," it added.

In cherries, losses were also great despite being better protected overall, Boerenbond said. "We're talking average losses of 82% on plots without protection, but up to 56% even on plots where protection measures were taken."

Similarly in pears, losses are expected to be around 63% on unprotected plots, 37% on those with protection.

Boerenbond did not survey growers of other fruits, but reported that strawberries, kiwiberries and even table grapes in unheated glasshouses were also hit.

Other major continental areas for top fruit production in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and South Tyrol have also reported damage to crops, though "it is still too early to make predictions about volumes and prices", Boerenbond said.

It warned: "The frost damage now hangs like a sword of Damocles over the sector," and has asked Flanders' environment minister to intervene.


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