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Va.’s General Assembly OKs tool to fight freeze damage

By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Correspondent

RICHMOND, Va. (Feb. 14, 2017) — The Virginia General Assembly has approved a change in the state’s fire ban law that will give fruit and wine growers a new tool to use in trying to save their crops when late frost threatens to kill blossoms on fruit trees and grape vines.
A spokesperson for Del. Matt Fariss who sponsored the House Bill 1793 said the law, if signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, will be effective beginning July 1.
It will allow small fires to be used in orchards and vineyards to warm the plants and keep the air moving to protect the plants.
This means it will not be a an option this spring should the current warm weather force early blooming that is followed by freezing weather as happened last year.
The spokesperson said it would take emergency legislation to make the change help this spring and noted no one has requested such action.
In 2016 many orchards and vineyards in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region lost fruit to a hard freeze in early April.
The bill passed unanimously in both the House of Delegates and the Senate.
McAuliffe is expected to sign it.
It changes the current law that prohibits open air burns before 4 p.m. within 300 feet of combustible material between Feb. 15 and April 30, the time considered to be spring fire season, for this one exception.
Details of open air burning laws in the state are available from the State Forester or local members of the Department of Forestry and local fire departments.
Danny Johnson who has both a peach and apple orchard and vineyard in Bedford County said the change will benefit growers. He noted that many have diversified so they have both orchards and vineyards.
He said the change will allow the producers to take steps to save their crops with fires without the worry of being fined for their efforts.
Johnson recalled years ago when his family used this method but said they have not done so in years.
Johnson added that the recent warm winter temperatures are causing buds to form on his fruit trees, especially peaches.