Published: Thursday, April 12, 2007
Valley fruit growers assess damage from cold
Peaches at White House Fruit Farm may be a total loss.
By DON SHILLING
Some local fruit crops appear severely damaged by recent subfreezing temperatures.
"I'm fairly sure there won't be any peach crop this year," said Debbie Pifer, one of the owners of White House Fruit Farm in Green Township.
Area growers are concerned about just about every fruit that's grown around here plums, pears, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries.
And all of the growers have their eyes on the area's biggest fruit crop apples.
John Huffman of Huffman Fruit Farm of Green Township said his apple crop suffered severe damage, but he's still hoping for half of a normal crop.
"There's a lot of questions yet," he said.
Each fruit and each type of variety of that fruit is affected differently, depending on how far along the blossoms on the trees were when temperatures under 20 degrees rolled in recently.
Huffman said he's concerned that even apple blossoms that look good may not produce fruit if they can't push past leaves that were scarred by the snow and frost.
Some good news
Another Green Township grower, John Less of Less and Less Fruit Farm, is more optimistic. He's hoping his apples won't have much damage because the blossoms didn't seem that far along.
Pifer said she's more hopeful about her apples than her peaches and nectarines.
"Apples can take a lot," she said.
Besides, apple trees produce too many blossoms anyway, so losing a low percentage of blossoms won't hurt a tree, she said. Growers have to remove some blossoms for the good of the tree.
"Maybe we won't have to do as much work later," she said.
Huffman said growers will have a better idea how the apple crop fared after some 60-degree days give the blossoms a chance to develop. He noted, however, that frost can be a problem through the end of May.
"There's still a long way to go on the apples," he said.
Pifer already is looking ahead to August when the farm's peaches normally draw in customers. She said she hopes there will be a way to provide locally grown peaches.
Last year, cold temperatures wiped out 80 percent of the farm's peaches, but other growers fared better, so she was able to buy from them. One-third of White House's 30-acre orchard is dedicated to peaches and nectarines.
Huffman said he's hoping he has at least half of his normal crop of peaches. He said he's seen a lot of blossoms that hadn't opened yet that looked like they might survive.
His pear and plum trees were hard hit, however. Some plum varieties may have some surviving blossoms, while others appear to be a total loss.
He's also concerned about damage to strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, though it's too early to tell how those plants have fared.
Despite their concern, the growers seemed to be taking the recent cold snap in stride.
"It's just another day in the life of a fruit farm," Pifer said.
The growers deal with frost damage every year, and that's not all. Hail can be an even bigger problem sometimes, such as in 1991 when a storm wiped out all of White House's apple crop.
"This is the first of many things that can happen," Pifer said.