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After early frost, Patrick peach growers optimistic
Doug Wade, who operates Wade’s Orchard along Route 8 in Patrick County, said his orchard lost 70 to 80 percent of its early-season peaches due to cold weather around Easter. However, he expects mid- to late-season varieties to do well this year. (Bulletin photos by Harrison Hamlet)
Patrick County peach growers are hoping their late-season peaches will make up for losses in the earlier season crop.
Travis Bunn, a Patrick County extension agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, said a cold snap around the Easter holiday virtually eliminated the early-season peach varieties grown in the area.
“The cold took care of the early peaches. The late ones will be OK. They may be slower about coming, but they’ll be OK,” he said.
According to Bunn, farmers in the area know there could be a late frost any year, and they plan accordingly by planting varieties that will ripen at different points in the season.
There are 14 orchards in Patrick County that grow a variety of crops, including blueberries, cherries, apples, peaches and more, according to visitpatrickcounty.org.
Doug Wade, who operates Wade’s Orchard along Route 8, said his orchard lost 70 to 80 percent of its early-season peaches. He pointed to the high elevation as a main concern.
“I think it just got a little colder at the elevation here than some of the lower growers saw,” Wade said. “It was a big loss, the biggest one in recent years. It was more of a freeze than it was a frost (at Wade’s Orchard).”
Last year was exceptional thanks to heavy rain throughout the summer, he said, but he added that skin problems arose due to moisture.
That, he said, illustrates that the challenge of growing any crop changes year to year.
The problem this year is a short supply, according to Wade.
“We’ve got about 40 percent of our total crop left this year,” he said. “We’ve been selling out every day. Later on when we get to later peaches there’ll be more, and we’ll have plenty to supply for the peach festival.”
The Virginia Peach Festival is scheduled for Aug. 15 in Patrick County.
J.P. Via, who operated Via’s Orchard in Critz for more than 50 years, hosted the annual peach festival at his orchard for a dozen years. He agreed that the Easter frost was responsible for the poor early-variety crop this year.
Via estimated that 100 varieties of peaches are grown in Virginia, and any one orchard could grow as many as 25 varieties.
Although Via no longer grows fruit in large quantities, his years of experience lead him to believe the Easter frost will be costly for area orchards.
Bunn said the early-season slump will affect prices “regardless of whether it’s commercial ... or to the public; you’ll see a slightly increased price.”
Despite early optimism that late-season peaches and the price increase could make up for early-season losses, Via cautioned that the early season was always important for his sales.
“You could have more steady business with early-season peaches,” Via said. “Somebody may drive from Danville, and if there aren’t any peaches early in the season they may not come back later. It’s best to have peaches all through the season.”
Area farmers still have plenty of time to maneuver and make up for early losses, according to Bunn.
“Most orchards have diversified and will be fine,” Bunn said. “They don’t have all their eggs in one basket.”
Wade’s Orchard, for example, planted eight early varieties and 12 mid- to late-season varieties. This mix allows his sales to be consistent throughout the May-to-August season in an average year, Wade said.
Of the 70 acres of orchard land he operates, Wade said 25 acres have peach trees. Apples and cherries take up the remaining 45 acres.
The geography in Patrick County is usually a blessing, not a challenge, for area orchards, Bunn said.
“Most of (Patrick County’s) peaches are at the foot of the mountain,” he said. “The storms will build there and supply some water. So as far as challenges go, actually (the geography) is an advantage.”