Peach crop is scarce in New York
FINGER LAKES (8/31/16)--For some, the essence of summer is summed up in the joy of biting into a fuzzy, fragrant, juicy ripe peach. For others, a regular late summer ritual is the canning or freezing of surplus peaches for winter enjoyment. This year, New York peaches are hard to come by, causing hardship for many farmers as well as those who hunger all year for the summer's fresh "stone" fruits.
"We went out on Christmas Day and looked at the peach orchard," says Rick Reisinger of Reisinger's Apple Country in Watkins Glen. "It was 70 degrees and we saw the buds expanding. We knew at that point we were all done for the year. The peaches woke up too soon."
The story is pretty much the same throughout much of New York State and the Northeastern United States. Those who want to enjoy fresh peaches have to buy them from orchards farther south.
To put things in perspective, Judson Reid of Yates County Cornell Cooperative Extension explains, "There aren't a lot of peaches grown in Yates and Schuyler Counties. There are a lot of grapes, a fair amount of veggies and apples. You can have nice peaches in the state but you will not have them five times in five years. It's closer to three or four times in five years."
And while there are only a few peach orchards currently in the two counties, plus uncounted small backyard plantings, the bulk of New York's peach production is along Lake Ontario, Reid says. They too lost most of their peach crop due to a combination of warm winter weather and several sudden severe cold snaps in February and April.
John Martini at Anthony Road vineyards has grown apricots for 30 years, some of those years experiencing a diminished crop due to adverse weather conditions. "But this year, we had zero flowers and zero fruit," he says. "We've had short crops because of frost and other issues, but we've never had a year like this. Our buds died, the same thing that happened to other people with their peaches. Apricots are generally hardy -- they're native to the Himalayas. But we've never had a year like this."
"The climate's just weird," he says. "It's variability in temperature and wind and a whole lot of things going on with the weather. If you don't believe in global warming -- well....Overall, things are warming up but the variabilities are extreme. It wasn't below zero all winter and then suddenly 11 below one night in February." When the temperature rises and dips with extremes of both warmth and cold, the trees don't acclimate to the season, and every weather oddity causes damage as it takes the trees by surprise.
"One of the joys of agriculture," Martini concludes. "We'll be back next year."
"It's a significant loss because it's a major part of our income," said a representative of Benton Valley Orchard in Penn Yan, owned by Ernest and Annetta Martin. "A mild winter with one night of severe cold -- that was all it took. It would have been far better to have an even cold than warm and cold alternately."
At Benton Valley Orchard, the Martins grow four acres of apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums. "About every seven years, we get this kind of crop loss on stone fruit. It's happened before and likely will happen again. That's part of being here in Upstate New York."
They also have apples, which were not as adversely affected. The April cold snap damaged some buds, promoting a natural thinning.
It's a financial loss as well as the loss of fruit. "We usually take a lot of stone fruits to farmer's market," Reisinger says, speaking of most other years. "You just roll with it because you can't do anything about it. You're not going to have that money to carry you through." It's a similar situation, he notes, to the plight of area farmers short on hay and corn.
Roger Ort, Local Foods and Agriculture Educator at Schuyler County Cornell Cooperative Extension, points out that when summer staples need to be brought in from farther away, "The carbon footprint is bigger, it takes more fuel and the fruit costs more." He's also spoken to non-commercial growers whose small home orchards have been more productive than some commercial ones, due to a fortunate placement of trees with regard to frost pockets. Trees that stayed colder longer did better this year.
On the plus side, while crops were lost, no one reports having lost trees to this year's weather. Better yet, Reid says that with a more normal weather pattern next year, "I would expect a very heavy crop next year. The challenge is to make it through blossom."