Punishing winter will take a bite out of peaches and grapes

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 March 2014 at 12:00 am

Apples should be fine, fruit specialist says

Photo by Tom Rivers – An apple orchard on East Bacon Road endures the cold in this photo taken on Wednesday.

ALBION – If you love local peaches you might be out of luck this year. The punishing winter has damaged the buds on many of the trees, a local fruit expert said.

“Peach growers and consumers will be sorely disappointed,” said Debbie Breth, a fruit specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

The trees start to suffer with some thinning of the crop at about 5 degrees below 0. When it’s 10 below, the buds see a lot of damage. The temperatures have plummeted as far as 12 below this winter, Breth said.

“We’re definitely going to have a short peach crop,” she said.

The grape industry has also suffered, especially in Chautauqua County, where growers there fear 90 percent loss of some of their most valuable varieties for producing wine.

Farmers grow some grapes and peaches in Orleans County, but apples are the main fruit crop. Those trees are hearty and go dormant during the winter. They seem to have weathered the cold just fine, Breth said.

There is a chance some trees that were pruned right before the harsh cold may have injuries, she said. But she doesn’t expect there to be too much damage.

The deep freeze may have a benefit for farmers. Some of the invasive species that have survived recent warm winters may show up in smaller numbers this year, and they may show up later in the season, Breth said.

Fruit growers have worried in recent years about the Spotted Wing Drosophila, a destructive fruit fly. The cold may keep that pest out of the area until later in the season when the crops are harvested or close to harvest.