After the cold destroyed most of Golden Harvest Farms' apples last year, the family farm in Valatie, N.Y., has invested in a defensive solution--six 36-foot tall, 130 hp wind machines.
"If you don't have a good year with apples, you don't get a second chance," explained Derek Grout, whose grandparents founded the 200-acre farm in 1958.
The farm lost around 95 percent of its apples last year, due to weather that produced similar results across much of the state. Had wind machines been installed at the time, some of that crop might have been saved.
How the machines work is simple. Rising warm air reaches the machines, and enormous propane-powered fans outfitted with two 12-foot blades pull the air in and push it down to the ground, circulating it around the orchards. The temperature around the trees rises just a few degrees, often enough to keep the delicate cell walls of the blossoms from bursting.
After last year's crippling frost, dozens of orchards around the state started investing in the machines. Terence Robinson, an applied fruit crop physiologist at Cornell University, estimated that the number of wind machines in the state likely doubled between 2012 and 2013.
The 2012 frost prompted Cornell to conduct a study of the machines' effectiveness. The study found that farms that already utilized the machines fared much better during the frost.
"The most viable means of frost protection seems to be these wind machines," said Robinson. He said that the university recently worked to encourage farmers to think about methods for protecting against frost, rather than simply relying on crop insurance to make up for losses in years that crops fail.
Such wind machines can protect 10 to 15 acres of crop. The machines--which whoop loudly when turned on--only need to run for a few hours in the early morning once the blooms have blossomed, and only on those late spring mornings when temperatures dip below freezing. The machines typically cost around $30,000, but are moderately inexpensive to run once installed.
They aren't a cure-all--the machines won't make an impact in extremely cold weather, wind, rain or fog.