Widespread frost across Vermont last week is suspected to have severely damaged thousands of acres of crops in Vermont and across the region. Temperatures dropped below freezing in many areas for a sustained time causing early spring crops to freeze. According to the U.S. National Weather Service in Burlington, many below freezing temperatures were recorded overnight May 17 into the early morning hours of May 18, including a record low of 25º F in Montpelier while Burlington tied its record low of 28º.

“The losses caused by the late spring frost is heartbreaking for those who produce fruits, produce, berries and wine,” said Anson Tebbetts, secretary of the VT Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. “The hard freeze will mean significant losses for our growers and those who make their living off fruits and vegetables. The extent of the damage may not be known for several weeks but early indications are discouraging.”

The owners and operators of Shelburne Vineyard in Shelburne gave a tour of some of the damage to officials on May 22, highlighting that although some damage is obvious now, other impacts are a wait-and-see process.

“We know and can see that we have significant damage to the vines now, but what we don’t know is whether there’s damage we can’t see to the vines that would help us recover next year if they aren’t affected,” said Ethan Joseph, head of vineyard and winery operations at Shelburne Vineyard. “It’s a real concern and we know other farmers are facing similar questions.”

Damage to grape vines at Shelburne Vineyard. Photos courtesy of VAAFM

Kendra Knapik, president of the VT Grape & Wine Council, said, “This was a rough week for Vermont vineyards. The frost and plummeting temperatures … caused at least 50% of primary bud loss in many Vermont vineyards throughout the state. We will need to wait and see how this event will impact the industry statewide, but with so many farmers being affected it’s likely to have deleterious economic ramifications for many of these small businesses. This is a setback we will overcome, but it is a harsh reminder that we are at the whim of Mother Nature, and there are some parts of farming we cannot control. Most vineyards in Vermont do not have frost mitigation infrastructure like wind turbines and the tools to light vineyard-wide fires that many more established vineyards outside of Vermont had to soften the damage.”

Damage to grape vines at Shelburne Vineyard.

The University of Vermont Extension service is working with farmers and producers across the state to understand the scope of the damage. Additionally, the congressional delegation in Vermont is also working with farmers and VAAFM on the scope of this event.

“In my 25 years of working with fruit crops in Vermont, I have never seen frost or freeze damage this extensive. The widespread nature of this event is unprecedented, and has affected orchards and vineyards across the state,” said Terence Bradshaw, associate professor at the UVM Extension Fruit Program. “My team is systematically collecting damage data across the region to help inform next steps to respond to this event. We expect a difficult season for growers and appreciate the continued support that our community provides to these vital operations that are so important to the Vermont agriculture community.”

The USDA-FSA provides crop protection for weather related losses in certain circumstances. “FSA understands the impact this weather event has had on Vermont growers,” said John Roberts, VT FSA State Executive Director. “Our county office staff are available to discuss losses experienced and help growers seek potential program benefits to offset those losses. Any impacted farmer in our region is encouraged to report their losses through their local Farm Services Office.”

It is unclear whether those who sustained losses will be eligible for financial relief assistance but it’s important to document and report any damages as soon as possible. To find your local VT FSA County Office, visit offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=vt&agency=fsa.