Head StartArea News
-- As far as weather goes, March was an odd month.
By: Sarah Gorvin , Pierce County Herald
RED WING, Minn. -- As far as weather goes, March was an odd month.
With high temperatures breezing above the 65-degree mark on many days, the traditionally early spring month felt downright summery. And because of record low snowfalls throughout winter, the threat of flooding — that typical March foe for any river town — was nonexistent.
“It was unbelievable, smashed all the records,” said John Maloney, owner of Cannon River Winery in Cannon Falls.
Because of the early warm temps, Maloney said his grape crop has gotten a head start, something many area farmers throughout the region are seeing.
“It’s literally a month early,” Maloney said.
Currently, the vineyard is seeing budding on two of its 10 varieties of grapes. An early budding means the grapes get to hang on the vine longer than normal, Maloney said. That means the fruit gets more time to accumulate more sugars and reduce the acidity.
“Longer hang time will allow you to have better quality fruit which allow you to have better wines,” he said.
Before this year, Maloney said the earliest bud break he ever saw was in 2010, when it happened about the third week of April.
“That was a pretty darn early break, we thought, and this just shatters that,” he said.
“Shatter” is a pretty fitting word for describing all the records March 2012 broke. The Southern Research and Outreach Center, based in Waseca, Minn., reported that last month’s average temperature was 47.1 degrees. The previous record for warmth, set all the way back in 1946, was 43.2 degrees.
What’s more, March’s daily highs averaged about 16 degrees above normal highs. That’s the highest deviation from normal the SROC has seen since it began keeping records in 1915.
And, in case you need more proof of how warm March was, SROC reported that last month averaged about one degree warmer than a normal April average.
For grain farmers, those warm air temps equate to warmer soil temps. SROC reported that soil temperatures at the 2-inch depth are averaging about 55 degrees, something farmers don’t generally see until May 1.
That has allowed farmers to begin planting earlier than normal as well. SROC reports that in many fields, fertilizer has already been applied and small grains have not only been planted, but are already growing.
Corn crops, however, generally haven’t been started; there’s still the threat of cold, even below freezing, night lows that could set back any young corn sprouts.
For Maloney, that threat of frost is also on the forefront of his mind. Exceptionally cold nights could really damage the just-emerged grape buds, he said.
“It’s really unlikely that we won’t have any frost between now and the end of the traditional frost season,” he said. The last frost generally occurs around late April.
To help protect his fledgling crop, Maloney said there’s a product he will spray on the vines if overnight lows are predicted to be especially frigid.
“We’re getting closer and closer to when you can breathe easier. We’re just going to hope for the best.”
But the early spring doesn’t mean a longer season for every crop. For maple syrup producers, the lack of spring basically robbed them of a harvest.
“It went from winter to summer,” said Pete Roth, owner of Roth Sugar Bush in Cadott, Wis. “It went from snow on the ground to 70.”
That means that March skipped right over ideal sap-running weather: warmer days with nights dipping below freezing. As a result, Roth said this year’s maple syrup crop is only about a quarter to a third of what it would normally be.
But Roth said even so, no one has to worry about running short of maple syrup. Several previous years have been good.
“There’s plenty of carry over. There’s going to be enough maple syrup,” Roth said.
Sarah Gorvin is a reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle.