Peach harvest

Peaches are notoriously susceptible to cold temperatures, and entire crops are lost occasionally in the state of Illinois. It is too early to tell what the outcome will be.

MT. VERNON, Ill. — Peach growers are in wait-and-see mode following frigid temperatures that covered commercial orchards throughout the region.

Below-zero temperatures likely killed some buds. But orchardists were not particularly concerned.

“If you went out and cut some, I’m sure you’d find some brown buds,” said Centralia’s Tom Schwartz. “No sense getting worried about it. It’s February; we have a long way to go.”

Peaches are notoriously susceptible to cold temperatures, and entire crops are lost occasionally in the state of Illinois. The crop is usually more vulnerable when a cold period in the spring follows a warm spell. Still, extremely cold winter temperatures can also kill buds.

“Last year we got cold at the end of the April, and we lost some then. It was 26 degrees,” Schwartz said. “That was more than a frost. That hurt us late. And then it got hot. We went from 26 to 90 in about 12 days. You can’t do that.”

One of the state’s biggest orchards may suffer some losses. Chris Eckert is not worried about the trees at the home farm in Belleville, where the bulk of the crop is grown.

“I don’t think we have any damage in St. Clair County. But up in Jersey and Calhoun counties, we have pretty significant damage,” Eckert said. “I think we still have a crop there, but probably 50 percent.”

Jeff Flamm of Flamm Orchards in Cobden, Illinois, said temperatures fell to 5 to 6 above zero at his farm. But he agrees with Schwartz that it is too early to tell what the outcome will be.

“You can find dead buds, with some of the more tender varieties maybe as high as 50 percent in places,” he said. “Overall, we had a heavy bud set anyway, so there is still a full peach crop at this point. We’ve got a ways to go.”

Wayne “Ren” Sirles of Rendleman Orchards in Alto Pass said it helped that the cold spell was relatively gradual.

“It wasn’t like the bottom fell out,” he said.

He said they lost some peaches.

“I cut our most tender variety and saw some damage. But it’s not at a critical point at all. Today, we have a very good peach crop,” he said. “I’ll know more when I put them in the box.”

University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Elizabeth Wahle has seen damage north of her office in Edwardsville.

“Some growers suspect certain blocks might be shot,” she said. “… There still appears to be a crop out there, but it’s too early to know how much damage there has been. It’s just how cold moves, age of tree and cultivar — all those things together.”

Schwartz, who has a sizeable cider operation at his Marion County farm, grows peaches on only about 12 acres.

He suffered losses last year. Many peach trees bore shriveled fruit, which often fell off the branches.

“That happened even with Red Haven, and they’re pretty tough,” Schwartz said. “As you went north it was better because they were about three days behind us.”

He estimates his losses at 15 percent for 2018. Besides peaches, he had some apple trees that didn’t bloom, and a sub-par strawberry crop.

Wahle said there could be some losses in apple orchards this spring. Though apples are hardier than peaches, extreme cold can cause major damage.

“Down here it’s the peach crop. Above I-70 there aren’t a whole lot of peach orchards. The majority of it’s down here,” she said. “In the northern part of the state it’s the apple crop. Temperatures dropped down to 35 below in some places. They’re waiting to see what they’re going to have.”

MT. VERNON, Ill. — Peach growers are in wait-and-see mode following frigid temperatures that covered commercial orchards throughout the region.

Below-zero temperatures likely killed some buds. But orchardists were not particularly concerned.

“If you went out and cut some, I’m sure you’d find some brown buds,” said Centralia’s Tom Schwartz. “No sense getting worried about it. It’s February; we have a long way to go.”

Peaches are notoriously susceptible to cold temperatures, and entire crops are lost occasionally in the state of Illinois. The crop is usually more vulnerable when a cold period in the spring follows a warm spell. Sill, extremely cold winter temperatures can also kill buds.

“Last year we got cold at the end of the April, and we lost some then. It was 26 degrees,” Schwartz said. “That was more than a frost. That hurt us late. And then it got hot. We went from 26 to 90 in about 12 days. You can’t do that.”

One of the state’s biggest orchards may suffer some losses. Chris Eckert is not worried about the trees at the home farm in Belleville, where the bulk of the crop is grown.

“I don’t think we have any damage in St. Clair County. But up in Jersey and Calhoun counties, we have pretty significant damage,” Eckert said. “I think we still have a crop there, but probably 50 percent.”

Jeff Flamm of Flamm Orchards in Cobden, Illinois, said temperatures fell to 5 to 6 above zero at his farm. But he agrees with Schwartz that it is too early to tell what the outcome will be.

“You can find dead buds, with some of the more tender varieties maybe as high as 50 percent in places,” he said. “Overall, we had a heavy bud set anyway, so there is still a full peach crop at this point. We’ve got a ways to go.”

Wayne “Ren” Sirles of Rendleman Orchards in Alto Pass said it helped that the cold spell was relatively gradual.

“It wasn’t like the bottom fell out,” he said.

He said they lost some peaches.

“I cut our most tender variety and saw some damage. But it’s not at a critical point at all. Today, we have a very good peach crop,” he said. “I’ll know more when I put them in the box.”

University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Elizabeth Wahle has seen damage north of her office in Edwardsville.

“Some growers suspect certain blocks might be shot,” she said. “… There still appears to be a crop out there, but it’s too early to know how much damage there has been. It’s just how cold moves, age of tree and cultivar — all those things together.”

Schwartz, who has a sizeable cider operation at his Marion County farm, grows peaches on only about 12 acres.

He suffered losses last year. Many peach trees bore shriveled fruit, which often fell off the branches.

“That happened even with Red Haven, and they’re pretty tough,” Schwartz said. “As you went north it was better because they were about three days behind us.”

He estimates his losses at 15 percent for 2018. Besides peaches, he had some apple trees that didn’t bloom, and a sub-par strawberry crop.

Wahle said there could be some losses in apple orchards this spring. Though apples are hardier than peaches, extreme cold can cause major damage.

“Down here it’s the peach crop. Above I-70 there aren’t a whole lot of peach orchards. The majority of it’s down here,” she said. “In the northern part of the state it’s the apple crop. Temperatures dropped down to 35 below in some places. They’re waiting to see what they’re going to have.”

Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.