Unseasonably warm temperatures are raising concerns among some Valley farmers, especially those who are invested in Alaska's budding peony industry.
Harry Davidson, owner of North Star Peony Farm in Wasilla, said he’s worried that the thaw-freeze cycle could kill the roots of his perennial plants. When Davidson first started his farm, he planted about 7,500 roots. He estimates he lost about half of them over the past two winters.
"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."
The peony industry in Alaska may be new, but it’s growing, he said. Last year more than 100,000 stems of the popular flower were sold by Alaska growers, most of which were shipped Outside.
Alaska's unique growing season allows farmers to harvest the flowers in August and September, while the majority of 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," said Davidson.
But the warm winter weather could be setting farmers up for a big loss 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 with the UAF Cooperative Extension office.
Other valley farmers have expressed some concerns about crops like berries and hay.
At Pyrah's Pioneer Peak Farm, half the raspberry patch was lost due to winter kill last year. The recent weather could hurt other crops, too, according to 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," said Pyrah.
He’s not worried yet, but multiple bad winters can start hurting, he added.
After a damaging winter last year, Davidson said he took precautions to protect his flower roots this fall, using some of that very same hay as a protective layer over his plants. He hopes it will work as a substitute to thermal protection usually provided by the snow.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "Farming is not for pessimists."