Early Spring Has Farmers Battling Frost At Night

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The early spring has been great for recreation and those with cabin-fever, but it's been a headache for farmers and other growers. In Wisconsin, orchard and vineyard owners have trees and vines in early bloom, but are now up at night battling frost.


Philippe Coquard could use some sleep. He's the co-owner of the Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. And he's been up two nights in a row. He blames it on the weather.

PHILLIPPE COQUARD: The month of March was like summer, which we never see that in Wisconsin. And everybody is so happy and it feels like summer. Well, it's not good to us.

CORNISH: That's because Coquard's 27 acres of grapevines budded a month ahead of schedule. And now there's frost. Coquard and other vineyard and orchard owners in southern Wisconsin are trying to protect those fragile buds. Some build bonfires, some use large tarps. Coquard says his work starts at 1:30 in the morning.

COQUARD: So, soon as the temperature will hit 35 degree Fahrenheit at two feet off the ground, then it triggers an alarm - it calls me in my house. Then I will come to the winery and start our protection equipment.

CORNISH: There are three wind machines positioned at the lowest and therefore coldest part of the vineyards. They keep the cold air moving so the vines don't freeze. Then there's the fire dragon. It's pulled by a tractor.

COQUARD: You start the fire and there's a big fan that will draw warm air and shoots it right and left. And you will cover almost 60 or 70 feet on each side of that device.

CORNISH: Hot in the rear but still cold at the wheel. Coquard and his assistance take turns driving the dragon all around the vineyard until morning. So far, there's minimal damage to his vines. But there could be more cold next week. As for now...

COQUARD: I'm due to go take a nap and...


COQUARD: ...and rest.


CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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