- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Southcentral Alaska’s long stretch of warm weather is creating worries among peony farmers, who say a thaw-freeze cycle could damage their investment in the perennials.

Harry Davidson, owner of North Star Peony Farm in Wasilla, planted 7,500 peonies when he started his farm. He estimated he lost half over the first two winters. Above-freezing temperatures that began this month could take another toll, KTUU-TV reported (https://bit.ly/1mA3aD8).

“Once it gets warm and you lose your thermal protection, and then it gets cold again, that kills the root,” said Davidson. “It set back my farm development at least five years.”

Alaska peony farmers last year harvested and sold more than 100,000 stems. Most were shipped out of state.

The state’s late growing season allows farmers to harvest peonies in August and September. Most peony growers elsewhere cut stems in May.

“The month of August and the month of September, we pretty much have the global market to ourselves,” Davidson said.

Wasilla hit 48 degrees Thursday and a low of 35. Continued warm weather could mean big losses for farmers next season.

“If they lose that root stock, they’ve lost a lot of money and potentially a fledgling industry in Alaska,” said Stephen Brown of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension office.

Other farmers in the Matanuska-Susitna area worry about crops such as raspberries and hay. Half the raspberry patch at Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm was lost to winter kill last year, said Lucas Pyrah.

The farm has 80 acres of hay.

“If I were to lose 20 percent in each field, then that could have a pretty decent impact,” Pyrah said.

Davidson last fall took precautions against another warm winter. He used hay to spread an insulating barrier over his peonies. He hopes hay will form a protective layer against thawing in the absence of more snow.

“I’m optimistic,” he said. “Farming is not for pessimists.”

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Information from: KTUU-TV, https://www.ktuu.com

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