Orchard Owners Report No Peaches Growing this Season Due to Winter Weather

The Recorder, July 7th, 2016, by Richie Davis. “Weird weather” is one thing, but no peaches this summer?

That’s the pits, for peach lovers and local peach growers alike.

“Just leaves,” was the way Albert “Chip” Hager puts it, when asked about his crop from about 3 acres in Shelburne that would have sold at Hager’s Farm Market.

He figures he lost “in the neighborhood of $50,000” worth of peaches.

Apples are a little hardier and survived without much problem, say some growers. But peaches were nipped in the bud.

For David Shearer of Pine Hill Orchards, who typically picks on 300 to 500 bushels of peaches, his orchard of five to six acres yielded just five blossoms, none of which yielded fruit.

“Everybody is asking every day, ‘When will the peaches be in?’ I tell them, ‘They may not be.’”

Any peaches that customers find anywhere, from here southward to maybe Long Island or New Jersey, will be suspicious as to origin … and probably pricey, as well.

“It happened to everybody around here,” says Shearer. “Usually, peaches can tolerate up to -15 (degrees) when they’re dormant. This year, it got so cold so fast, it killed all the peaches.

Maybe the cruelest joke was that it happened on Valentine’s Day weekend: unseasonable temperatures, which had reached near 60 degrees, plummeted to -20F overnight.

The previous winter, Shearer recalls, temperatures also dropped as low, but the difference from what they had been wasn’t as much of a shock, so there was a “decent crop.”

He has been looking around for growers who might have been spared the kind of damage so that he can have some peaches to sell at the Pine Hill market, and he may have to turn to frozen peaches or fruit sold through a distributor to make some of the peach cider and jam he usually produces.

At Hamilton Orchard in New Salem, Bruce Darling said there are no peaches on its 40 trees.

“December was all warm,” Darling recalls, “so the blossoms started to come out. They puffed up a little. But then they froze hard. Usually, we have peaches toward the end of July or (early) August.”

At Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, 10 acres of peaches — about 2,000 trees got hit.

“There’s nothing,” said Ben Clark. “That’s a major impact for us. That’s our early crop.”

The same February chill also wiped out the farm’s crops of apricots, nectarines and plums and “greatly reduced” its cherry crop, Clark said. And a snowstorm the first week in April affected some varieties of apples, he said.

The losses are hard to swallow, say growers like Shearer.

“The downer is that’s our early season. It helps pay the bills,” he said. While he’s insured, that will only pay for lost expenses spent on growing the crop, not for lost income.

“They don’t give you money for what you didn’t make,” Shearer said.

The Farm Services Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has applied for a statewide disaster designation not only because of the loss of an estimated $4 million worth of peaches from 327 acres, but also for other tree fruit, grapes and blueberry crop loss during this harvest season, said James Newland, the agency’s Franklin County executive director.

There’s not likely to be a determination before the close of the season this fall, said Newland, to assure that the crop losses caused by the “flip-flop between frost and freeze, and warm” aren’t merely estimates.

Because of changes in the 2014 Farm Bill, what used to be a disaster assistance program now is simply a loan program for farmers who suffer a crop loss of more than 30 percent on a single crop.