Frigid weather has some benefits

Published 10:47 pm Friday, January 15, 2010

Many people associate cold weather with discomfort. For some, the mere thought of walking to the car on a cold morning can give you a shiver.

But cold weather has its benefits — especially in the world of agriculture.

Fruit crops must earn a certain number of “chill hours” each year. Any deciduous plants must have a period of rest, which is a necessary part of their life cycle.

As of Friday morning, the Chilton County peach crop had accumulated an estimated total of between 860 and 880 chill hours, Area Horticulturalist Bobby Boozer said.

Despite a recent break in the rain, the soil is still moist enough for favorable conditions, he added. Moist soil is less stressful on the roots of fruit tree plants.

“Generally speaking, we like to have some rain during cold weather just because of the ability to trap and hold more heat,” Boozer said.

Cold weather is also beneficial because it reduces the number of pests, helping to protect crops.

The ranges of some insects are limited based on temperature. For example, certain kinds of insects found in Birmingham might be difficult to find in areas farther north.

“Cold temperatures have been the boundary of some of these insects that enjoy a warmer climate,” Boozer said.

Also, the cold can deplete food reserves for insects that are inactive during the winter. Typically, they do not feed during cold weather; they hide under debris and survive on energy gained from feeding in warmer conditions. But the lower the temperature, the colder it gets in a brush pile.

“Some of the weaker insects won’t make it through real cold winters,” Boozer said.

Extremely cold temperatures also help reduce the population of other pests, such as mosquitoes. Most adult mosquitoes will die from subfreezing temperatures near the beginning of winter, according to the American Mosquito Control Association.

So the next time you dread going out into the cold, just remember, it has its benefits; although that probably won’t make you feel warmer.