The ice saints have given the winegrowers in franken a run for their money. Artur baumann, managing director of the winegrowing ring, expects a 20 percent crop loss. "Maybe another ten percent will be added."The actual damage will only become apparent in the coming days.
The thermometer in the saale valley dropped to minus four degrees, and in the steigerwald the temperatures were also well into the minus range. To the west of the main, most of the growing areas have been spared some damage, while to the east the frost has caused severe damage. "The situation is threatening the existence of some businesses," warns hermann schmitt, managing director of the french winegrowers’ association. According to his information, the regions around handthal and hammelburg as well as the cultivation areas in the steigerwald are particularly affected. Even the mainschleife was not spared the frost. Damage was also reported from sulzfeld and rodelsee. "There hasn’t been a may frost there in ages," baumann marvels.
2011 was the last time the french winegrowers had to fight with the ice saints. The result: yields dropped to an average of 60 hectoliters. This time the harvest failure hits the winegrowers at an even more unfavorable time. Last year’s average yield of 56 hectoliters was already very low due to the drought, and the corona crisis has hampered sales in recent weeks. "No gastronomy, no wine festivals, no wine tourism", hermann schmitt sums up the malaise. "This is certainly not an easy situation we find ourselves in." Especially since the winegrowers cannot count on state aid. "Losses due to natural events are no longer compensated," informs schmitt. Winegrowers must make private provisions.
The frost did not come as a surprise at all, the meteorologists had predicted the minus degrees. Hermann mengler, wine consultant of the district of lower franconia, and a few helpers set up and rounded off dozens of kerosene candles in his private vineyards near mainstockheim around midnight. Between two and six o’clock in the morning they burned, warming the temperature near the ground by two to three degrees. "It has saved our plant," he says happily. Minus three degrees showed the thermometer in mainstockheim. Not every winegrower can or wants to make use of this help. The candles cost 2000 to 3000 euros per hectare, plus the manpower needed to grow them. "It’s a logistical challenge to find enough helpers," says mengler. A second protective option, overhead irrigation, also falls flat for most farmers. "You need a lot of water for that," artur baumann points out. Water, which has actually become a scarce commodity in the dry franken region. Andreas oehm and his colleagues can make use of this possibility in tauberfranken. Between 2.45 and 7.45 o’clock they let the system run, a protective ice shield wrapped itself around the shoots and gave them the warmth they needed. "Worked wonderfully," says oehm. The chairman of the GWF looks at other fields with great concern. About half of the 1200 hectares of the winegrowers’ cooperative were affected by the frost. "How strong is impossible to say at the moment", says oehm.
Around 20 liters of rain fell in mainfranken on monday. A long hoped-for blessing for farmers. For the winegrowers, the precipitation proved to be an additional setback. "The wet has intensified the frost effect," explains artur baumann. The soil could not give off any warmth, the cold could move into the grapevine even faster. "Once the cells break down, the shoots lose their juice, become flabby and dry up," explains baumann. It is not yet possible to say whether this damage will only affect parts of the facilities or whether it will be continuous.
While most of the winegrowers east of the mains have to fight with frost damage, the fruit growers have got off lightly. "There is no gross tragedy to be observed," explains thomas riehl, orchard consultant at the office for food, agriculture and forestry in kitzingen. Fruit tree crops such as apples, plums and cherries were no longer affected by the frost. On smaller flats, however, the strawberries could have suffered. His colleague thomas karl is not too worried. The winter cereal varieties can easily withstand the may frost, affected are – if at all – small grapes or the corn. "But even then, the damage is minimal as long as the temperatures don’t drop below five degrees below zero."
For the next night the meteorologists forecast temperatures just above 0 degrees celsius. "We have probably survived the worst night", says andreas oehm. As bad as the damage is for many winegrowers, oehm nevertheless speaks of luck in misfortune. "Another half degree less and we had experienced a catastrophe in all of franconia."