Mary Tutwiler

Cold weather, crop health, and reason to down some salty oysters

What’s bad for orange groves is good for Louisiana’s peach crop. Strawberries may be nipped by the frost, but the deep freeze kills pests that attack the state’s blueberry farms. The cold that drives crawfish into their burrows gives oysters a delicious salty snap. When it comes to weather, there’s always a yin to counter the yang, always a balance in the natural world.

Peach trees need 850 to 1,000 hours of chilling below 45 degrees to trigger fragrant flowering and a bumper crop. Louisiana’s 400 acres of peach orchards should benefit from the cold this past week. As we move out of the frosty weather, citrus farmers will have to evaluate how their trees fared. While a lot of the citrus crop was picked prior to the freeze, giving us oranges and satsumas this winter, next year is questionable. Hardy rootstock may not die, but the sweet citrus we eat grows from grafted stock, and if the trees froze above the graft, that will spell problems for citrus farmers.

Sugar cane is also worrying farmers. Grinding season is mostly over for this year, but sugarcane is a ratoon crop, meaning it regenerates from the root. “It’s wait and see,” says Stan Dutile, county agent for Lafayette Parish, when it comes to the economic engine in the sugar parishes. Cattle farmers are also watching their rye grass crop, winter grazing for an industry that is struggling to come back from the losses of Hurricane Rita. “There was already a hay shortage,” Dutile says, and cattle farmers depend on rye grass until the summer grass comes up in March.

Crawfish production may also be slowed down. The cold weather affects growth, so until the water warms, the crawfish hunker down in the mud, and pond production is at a standstill. “Crawfish farmers take a break during the cold weather as well,” says Vermilion Parish county agent Mark Shirley. “Once the water temperature gets up into the 50’s, the crawfish will start moving again.”

On the other hand, the icy cold is good news for bivalve aficionados. The dead of winter is the time to eat oysters. Summer, oysters are spawning and have a milky taste. The cold water firms the oyster’s body fat, making crisp raw oysters for January feasts.