Less-Than-Peachy Season Ahead
The Recorder, April 13th, 2016, by Domenic Poli
Valentine’s Day weekend provided a heartbreaker for David Shearer.
Temperatures that ranged from roughly 60 degrees to below zero wreaked havoc on his peach crop at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain. And the bad news has only gotten worse.
“I’m 90 percent sure we’ve lost our peach crop,” he said this week. “Usually, peach buds won’t survive that kind of temperature difference.”
It’s a situation that is all too familiar this year for area peach growers, who say they don’t expect much of a harvest.
Chip Hager, owner of Hager’s Farm Market in Shelburne Falls, said the situation doesn’t look good for his peaches.
“We’ll probably get a few here and there, but nothing big,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily the cold. (Peaches) can endure the cold temperatures. It’s the temperature changes. The more warm weather you have, the less cold they can stand.”
Hager said this means there is a chunk of income he won’t get. Though he won’t have harvesting expenses, there will still be costs for mowing, pruning, and spraying to keep the trees healthy. Hager said his father-in-law, Bud Wiles, recalls only one year (in the 1970s) of no peach harvest in his decades-long tenure at the business.
He said he has been increasing his number of trees each year and now has about 1,200. He said last year he produced 1,000 bushels of peaches.
Glenn Morin, co-owner of New England Fruit Consultants in Montague, explained the warm temperatures in December and January “faked out the buds” in a way “so they didn’t go into their winter mode.” This resulted in buds becoming less tolerant of cold than they would normally be.
He said his company works with roughly 30 commercial farms in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York, and he mentioned there will be very little, if any, viable peach crop this year. He said other stone fruits, like nectarines and apricots, also suffered.
“It’s almost a complete disaster for our New England states and into eastern New York,” he said. “I have been in the tree fruit business for 35 years as a consultant and I have never seen this much winter damage to stone fruits.”
Shearer said it has been about 15 years since he lost a peach crop.
“It hurts business. It’s income for July and August. That’s when we harvest peaches,” he said. “I’m thinking if we see a few peaches, we’ll be lucky.”
Shearer said his farm has other sources of income, but peaches are “a big shot in the arm.”
He said he would have preferred heavy snowfall over the winter because snow tends to protect a tree’s roots system and keep the trees at a more constant temperature.
Shearer said he is optimistic this year’s apple harvest will be fruitful, but it is too early to make predictions.
Ben Clark, one of the owners of Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, said the freezing temperatures probably damaged his fruit buds.
“Peaches were damaged with the sub-zero nights six weeks ago. The recent cold affected our apples and pears, and will reduce our crop. The degree and scope of damage won’t be known for several weeks, after we are past bloom and can get an idea of fruit set,” he said. “Too soon to tell the severity of damage to apples and pears, but peach crops will be significantly reduced this season.”
According to its website, Clarkdale typically sells more than 50 varieties of peaches harvested from Aug. 1 through mid-September.
Clark told The Recorder he has been talking with his crop insurance agency, which told him there have been 200 claims made across the Northeast.
He said peach sales usually account for 20 to 25 percent of the farm’s business in August and September.
He said he is lucky to be in a healthy financial spot and the farm is now planting additional peach and apple trees for the future. Clark said his farm typically produces 1,200 to 1,300 bushels per season. He said he has about 2,000 peach trees, about 1,500 of which bare fruit.
You can reach Domenic Poli at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257. On Twitter, follow @DomenicPoli