2nd frost attack in April hits fruit growers hard in Fukushima

Tadao Ariga (left) checks the degree of frost damage to apple trees in his orchard together with his son Ryutaro in Sukagawa city.

Another wave of frost damage in April has spread in Fukushima Prefecture, touted as a "fruit kingdom," leaving farmers in distress. Frost was confirmed again on April 27, dealing a serious blow to apple, pear and peach orchards in the Naka-dori central inland region and the Hama-dori coastal zone. Farmers are growing uneasy, wondering what fate is awaiting them. Damage from the frost is estimated to be more than the 2002 level, which had been the worst since the Heisei era began in 1989. The prefectural government is working out a relief package in cooperation with related organizations. For fruit farmers in the Hamao district of Sukagawa city, the frost damage came just when they had recovered after suffering heavily from a typhoon in October 2019. Tadao Ariga, who operates an eponymous orchard, has found out that there are many blackish discolored pistils of damaged apple flowers. "It's like knocking the wind out of our sails," lamented the 56-year-old farmer. The typhoon inundated about 80% of his fruit farmland, slashing the annual harvest to 30% of the normal level. After managing to recover to some extent last year, the latest frost damage struck when he had high expectations that his business would get back on track this year -- so much so that he cannot hide his shock. After experiencing the previous frost in mid-April, he made the most use of fan heaters in an effort to prevent damage by sending out warm air. But it was still impossible to protect all trees. Including the case of the second frost wave, 70-80% of flowers and buds died down in the orchards where such devices were not installed, while 20-30% did so even in places where protective measures were taken. On April 27, Ariga and his 28-year-old son, Ryutaro, confirmed the extent of damage and worked together to take care of injured trees by, for example, plucking dead flowers. "We did everything we could," the elder farmer said. "All that is left is to see how many apple trees will bear fruit," he added as he looked hopefully at some of the white flowers that appeared healthy. Another farmer, Koji Suzuki, 70, is growing peaches and persimmons, among other fruits, in the Kawauchi district of Kunimi town, where the Taki River meets the bigger Abukuma River that flows through both Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures. His peach garden has been damaged by the latest early-morning frost in addition to the earlier frost that hit the area from April 10 to 15. "We didn't expect to see frost arrive in such rapid succession," Suzuki said, his shoulders drooping in disappointment. He has postponed the usual work of fruit thinning, unsure whether whatever young peaches are left unhurt will grow large. Last year, his peach shipment volume shrank to around half the usual level after a bacterial shot-hole disease spread. That led Suzuki to take out insurance against revenue risks offered by a prefectural agricultural mutual relief association for coverage that starts this year. But he is haunted by uneasiness about possible damage beyond his imagination. "I'm wondering if we can ever ship peaches again which are good enough to represent the taste of Fukushima," he said wearily. In Minamisoma city, damage was reported from 20 hectares of pear gardens in the Kashima district. It was the city's first frost damage in several years, according to the municipal office. (Translated by Kyodo News)