Courtesy of the polar vortex, unseasonably cold temperatures came to a broad swath of the country, from Texas to Maine, last week, causing frost damage to crops and ornamental plants. (And snow in New York City’s Central Park on May 9). Cherry and other fruit trees are particularly susceptible, and losses could be substantial.
Frost damage to crops is not unusual; it causes American farmers to lose billions of dollars annually. Peaches, plums, citrus, and other crops are regularly threatened by frost in the Southeast, but California is also susceptible: A freeze there in January 2007 cost farmers more than $1 billion in losses of citrus, avocados, and strawberries, and a 1990 freeze that caused about $800 million in damage to agriculture resulted in the layoff of 12,000 citrus industry workers, including pickers, packers, harvesters, and salespeople. In 2002, lettuce prices around the country spiked after an unseasonable frost struck the Arizona and California deserts.
Technology could mitigate much of the damage, but government regulation has placed obstacles in the way of innovative solutions. Those obstacles illustrate what innovators are up against, and how flawed, unscientific public policy prevents science and technology from realizing their potential . . .