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Ice wine, and not in a good way

20 Mar 2024 | OP ED Watch

We learn that “The British Columbia government says farmers will get an extra $70 million to replant and strengthen fruit orchards and vineyards after two years of weather-related disasters.” Not, it turns out, due to heat but to cold weather in 2022 and 2024, by now in herd-mentality media-speak a mere “cold snap”, plus wildfire smoke in 2021. Another story tells us that “Western Canada’s cold snap in January causes $180 million in insurance damages”. There’s that snap again. And yet we keep hearing that it’s heat that kills crops, causes massive economic losses and pushes up premiums. And when we say “keep hearing” we mean even when it’s cold. As in the Atlantic headline “Fruit Chaos Is Coming/ Climate change is threatening to turn sublime summer stone fruits disgusting, or rob us of their pleasures entirely”, which is all about massive projected damage to fruit from cold due to heat.

The Atlantic piece by a distraught Zoë Schlanger starts “Summer, to me, is all about stone fruit”. Which already has us suspecting a bad case of overcooked prose. No beaches? Lazy days in the park? Swimming? Just stone fruit? But soft. Mushily so. Or hard and woody. See:

“last summer, I struggled to find peaches at the farmers’ markets in New York City. A freak deep freeze in February had taken them out across New York State and other parts of the Northeast, buds shriveling on the branch as temperatures plummeted below zero and a brutally cold, dry wind swept through the region.”

Aaaack. Cold in February? What’s the world coming to? Warming, obviously:

“One farmer estimated that the Hudson Valley lost 90 percent of its stone fruit. Evan Lentz, a faculty member in the plant-science department at the University of Connecticut, told me his state lost 50 to 75 percent. Another freeze in the second half of May damaged lots of other crops, including strawberries and blueberries. In New Hampshire, apple growers who went to bed with orchards full of pink blossoms awoke to petals turning brown. Georgia, the iconic peach state, lost some 90 percent of last year’s crop – a Georgia summer without peaches, an unfathomable thing. An unusually warm winter robbed the trees of the period of cold they need to bloom in the spring. The buds that did emerge were, like the ones in the Northeast, killed by a cold snap in the early spring.”

Again with the “snap”. In a warming world, you get heat waves, heat domes, heat spells, heat sandwiches. But cold is just a snap and gone. Whereas in days of yore, none of the above or so we’re told:

“Fruit trees evolved to live in more stable conditions; they’re exquisitely well adapted to the rhythm of a usual year. But instead of reliable seasons, they’re getting weather chaos”.

Bosh. Even leaving aside that modern fruit trees are the product of careful breeding not just carefree evolution, she has no evidence to offer that weather was more stable before the dreaded “climate change”. We do have pretty careful records for a variety of conditions in North America, especially the U.S., going back a century and a bit more. Before that, just anecdotes. And what do the anecdotes say?

Weather is terrible. It keeps changing. It kills the crops. Farmers can’t get a break. Anecdotally, the weather was more stable in the Medieval Warm Period than the Little Ice Age. But nobody’s really sure even then. And more stable doesn’t mean stable. Nature is an endless procession of storms, cold “snaps”, droughts, locusts, seven fat years then seven lean ones.

Go ahead. Do a Google search. Here’s one result we got from a dry academic paper on “Subsistence Crises during the Ancien and Nouveau Régime in Sweden”:

“in 1693-1698 harvest failed every year except 1694 and the five worst harvest years of the entire 1665-1820 period occurred between 1693 and 1726. In 1739-1746 again there were 5 years of crop failures and again there were severe harvest failures in 1771-1772 and 1781, 1783 and 1785 (while crops of 1782 and 1784 was [sic] good, explaining a less strong fall in death rates in the 1780’s than what may have been expected). Again the early nineteenth century was volatile, with severe crop failures in 1800, 1805, 1808 and 1817.”

Tell them about how nowadays it’s hard to grow luscious fruit in the stony soils of Maine.

Only someone who lives in incredibly controlled circumstances with working furnaces, air conditioning in summer, and a global transportation network putting fresh food in the supermarket in every season could possibly think nature was calmly benign until humans started burning all those nasty fossil fuels to power furnaces, run air conditioning, and transport bananas to New England.

If you go back before the invention of writing and its blessed accompaniment tax records, all you have are proxies. Do they tell us, really, that the weather was stable and the seasons dependable in, say, the Last Glacial Maximum? Or the Eocene? No. Of course not. They’re nothing like reliable enough. You’re lucky if they give you a rough picture of a century. They don’t do September. Nobody knows if spring came like clockwork when brontotheres roamed the Earth, or brontosaurs.

She’s just making it up. Well, her and a couple of experts who give her good quotations. Or to be fair, they’re not really making it up because they make no real effort to depict or decipher the past. They assume it must have been rough the last few years because everybody knows climate change causes bad weather. For instance one of them, “Theodore DeJong, a fruit-tree physiologist at UC Davis”:

“told me his main worry now is rain. His state has been pummeled with extreme precipitation for months, leading to catastrophic flooding in places. Too much moisture exposes trees to rot and pests. It also messes with pollinators: The bees that pollinate crops such as almonds don’t like to fly in the rain. DeJong expects the almond crop in his part of California to suffer this year.”

Once again we observe that California was infamous in the 19th century for alternating extreme drought and flooding. He doesn’t deny it. He doesn’t address it. And she apparently didn’t ask.

Another, “Evan Lentz, a faculty member in the plant-science department at the University of Connecticut”, testified that:

“In New England, wild fluctuations in water availability have added to trees’ lifetime stress load. ‘We seem to bounce back and forth between a really wet year and a really dry year,’ Lentz told me. ‘It’s not just warming. It’s these big swings, erratic weather patterns.’ Such conditions, he said, can be terrifying for farmers, some of whom are working orchards that have been in their families for a century. ‘I’ve heard people say we don’t have any business growing peaches up here,’ he told me.”

Perhaps not. But if people had enough brains not to grow peaches in Vermont a century ago, maybe it’s because Vermont weather wasn’t super peach-friendly. And if you had interviewed these farmers’ grandparents, and asked whether the sun, the rain and so on showed up on cue in the right amount, you’d have gotten an earful after they spit out the peach pit or whatever it was.

One comment on “Ice wine, and not in a good way”

  1. For a few months some 50 years ago I worked on an apple farm in England. The critical period was April/May when the apple blossoms could be killed by a sudden frost. The farm had a network of pipes suspended in the air which would spray water as a fine mist if the temperature ever dropped to near zero or below, thus keeping the blossoms from freezing provided the temperature didn't go too far below zero. Did the farmers in New York State ever try this?

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