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Montana farmers prep crops for cold weather

Published On: Apr 30 2013 10:31:23 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

Gusty winds, rain and even snow continue to pound western Montana, leaving some Montana growers hustling to keep their crops alive.

NBC Montana learned there are a number of ways farmers protect their crops from frost and at the Swanson Mountain View Orchard, outside of Corvallis, they've been using three key techniques all week.

“If it gets down to about 20 then we'll come out and start the wind machines and that way we save a couple-degree buffer zone.”

Lukas Swanson, a fourth generation Bitterroot farmer, tells us this April has proven colder than previous years.

“You might get a day when it warms up and then the next day a cold front moves through,” said Swanson.

He explains that irrigating, using wind machines and orchard heaters are effective ways to help save sensitive apple blossoms.

“By having air movement you're actually pushing the warm air back down onto the ground -- and frost, it behaves just like water, so the cold air falls and it just kind of runs downhill,” said Swanson.  “So as those fans turn around it actually literally diverts that frost around the orchard.”

Swanson tells NBC Montana the wind machines are incredibly effective but cost a lot to run, roughly $100 an hour to for their three machines; he says irrigating is a much cheaper way to deter frost.

“We'll patch the sprinklers through and that moisture on the ground actually keeps that heat trapped in the ground,” he said.

But Swanson added that in cold weather like this they'll protect the crops using a combination of methods.

“It's just kind of a down and distance situation you have to look at everything as a whole to see what you can and cannot do,” said Swanson.

With the orchard heaters ready to light and temperatures dropping Swanson says their eyes will be on the blossoms.

“Farmers in general are worse than Vegas gamblers because you're always rolling the dice against Mother Nature and you're never exactly sure how it's going to turn out,” he said.

Swanson tells us it's always best for the crops if cold weather happens earlier in the summer than later, so he's crossing his fingers for a warm streak.