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This area escapes killer cold

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:52 PM

Northern Ohio's fruit crop may escape the current cold snap relatively unscathed.

While other states' farmers are talking about losing entire fruit crops, Lilly Burnham of Burnham's Orchard is estimating a 10 percent loss.

The concern is not so much how low the temperature got, but how long it's staying cold, Burnham said. Some of their fruit trees had already started budding when it turned cold again, she said.

The state of the blossoms is the key, said Mike Gastier of the Ohio State Extension office in Huron County. A full blossom cannot withstand temperatures lower than 28 degrees for even an hour, he said. But a tight bud can withstand a lot more a lot longer.

Initial field reports indicate the loss around the county is not as bad as some feared, he said, because most blossoms are still protected in tight buds.

It looked "bleak over the weekend," Gastier said, but at this point he's "fairly hopeful."

It is too early to be sure, Burnham said. No one will know anything for a certainty until the blossoming continues. That's assuming the weather doesn't get cold again. If it does, things might quickly start looking much worse. "Most farmers worry until mid-May," she said.

It's certainly too early to say whether the weather will affect fruit prices. However, it would take a significant loss to raise prices. There are always more blossoms than we need for a good peach crop, Gastier said. Each tree produces more blossoms than it needs, in fact, if farmers didn't thin them, they'd create more fruit than the tree could support. While many blossoms will certainly be lost, most of them will hopefully be within that margin of error.

The story is worse elsewhere in the country where blossoms are about a month ahead their trees were in full bloom. "I don't think there'll be a good peach out of South Carolina this year," said Raymond Cook, who grows 60 acres of peaches each season. "It's the worst I've ever seen."

Growers from West Virginia to North Carolina to Texas spent the weekend trying to save their crops as temperatures fell into the 20s, including a record low of 21 in North Carolina.

South Carolina raised 100 million pounds of peaches last year, but when temperatures dipped into the 20s in 1996 the state produced just 6.6 million pounds, according to Rhonda Brandt, director of the federal agriculture department in South Carolina.

The damage extended into southern Illinois.

"There's nothing alive. They're all dead," Tom Schwartz said Monday of the baby peaches at his orchard near Centralia, Ill. "They say you pay your bills with apples and make your money with peaches. This year, you're not going to make anything on either side."

Editor's Note: The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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