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USA - Thinner peach crop this year

With the first day of spring this week, bud break is soon to follow in southern Illinois’ commercial orchards. The question is how many buds will fully develop into peaches and apples.

Although winter is officially in the past on the calendar, the past season’s extreme weather conditions have prompted orchardists to keep out a leery eye. This past winter brought enough frigid temperatures that could have killed off tree buds.

Growers like the Flamms in Cobden tend to get into their acreage and do bud cuts for a rough estimate on an expected crop. While the cuts are made on well-formed buds on a small branch, Jeff Flamm said they also already have brought in limbs and larger branches indoors, submerged them under water and forced any potential growth to determine an estimate.

“By all normal circumstances, it shouldn’t have any effect on our peaches, but there’s something that was different about it, I don’t what, but we’ve lost as many peaches as we lost last spring,” Flamm said.

Flamm Orchards lost 80 percent of its peaches last year.

“We’re sitting at about the same place right now, would be my guess. It’s a little hard to tell. You go out, you cut buds and you count. It doesn’t it look good,” Flamm said.

Admittedly, spring is still early, especially for the peach trees which bud and bloom weeks earlier than the hardier apple trees. This also is a time of year when periods of warm and cold are common.

It turns deadly for these fruit trees when there’s four consecutive nights of freezing temperatures or if snow, ice and daytime temps hit freezing for days at a time. The delicate and early-blooming peach buds cannot survive.

Most of Illinois’ surviving wholesale orchards are in southern Illinois, and tend to have peaches and apples, as well as other vegetable and fruit crops to diversify and extend their revenue streams. Other state commercial orchards tend to function as u-pick operations that mostly rely on retail sales on-site.

In the Metro East area in St. Clair County, Chris Eckert reports that the peaches there have weathered well but their orchards north of there in Madison and Calhoun counties experienced much colder temperatures. He’s anticipating “half a crop in those areas.”

Likewise, University of Illinois Extension commercial agriculture educator Elizabeth Wahle has heard about spotty damage in the same areas from smaller growers.

“It does not sound disastrous compared to other years, but there’s loss out there and we have a ways to go,” she said.

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