By DANIEL GRANT
If you’re looking to order a dessert based on crop availability in Illinois this season, apple pie or strawberry shortcake should be plentiful — but there might not be as much peach cobbler on the menu.
Wild weather swings dating back to last December sapped much of the peach crop this season while apple trees at some orchards appear to be set up for a big harvest in coming months, specialty growers from around the state told FarmWeek.
“We feel like we probably have maybe 10% of our peach crop,” said Austin Flamm, manager of Flamm Orchards in Cobden (Union County). “We feel the majority to all the damage occurred December 23. We went from temperatures in the 30s to minus 5 in just eight hours with negative 25 wind chills.”
The Flamms cut thousands of buds in January, just weeks after the farm was slammed by the Polar Vortex, and hardly found any peaches taking shape for the upcoming season.
“It’s not very often, if ever, you lose a peach crop in December like that, but that’s what we feel happened,” Flamm said. “In 2007 we had a total loss of peaches and apples. This (season) was the hardest our peaches have been hit since then.”
Rendleman Orchards in nearby Alto Pass also lost a majority of this year’s peach crop (80 to 85%) to the Polar Vortex in December, as previously reported in FarmWeek.
“We had no idea (the Polar Vortex) would have the severity on our peaches that it did,” said Wayne Sirles, who operates Rendleman Orchards with his wife, Michelle. “But it was too big of a temperature drop and it was too cold for too long.”
Both Sirles and Flamm believe there will be enough peaches on their farms to serve local markets. But neither farmer plans on much if any wholesale business this season due to the peach shortage.
“There are a few more peaches than we originally thought (emerging this summer),” Flamm said. “We do have a retail store where you can buy peaches and we hope to at least have enough peaches for the store. But there will probably be some days we’re out.”
Elsewhere, Hagen Family Orchard in Brussels (Calhoun County) reported cooler weather with lower humidity earlier this month could slow fruit ripening a touch. But they also plan to have peaches available for nearby markets.
“We’re still predicting to have tree-ripened peaches anywhere from the Fourth of July to July 15,” Hagen Family Orchard noted on its business line phone message. “Keep checking in. We’re anxious to see all our customers.”
Meanwhile, Eckerts Orchards reported you-pick opportunities exist for black raspberries and peaches at its Grafton farm, but peaches likely will be available in only its store at the Belleville location.
On the other hand, apple trees seemed to fare much better so far this year at many locations in the state.
“Our apples look really good. We’ve got a big crop setting up on most of our farm,” Flamm said. “We had one farm with hail damage, but it’s a small percentage of our entire crop.”
Sirles also expects a bountiful apple harvest at Rendleman Orchards.
“We have a wonderful apple crop — one of the best blossoms we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to that (with harvest expected to begin in August).”
Strawberries are also overflowing this season at Flamm Orchards, where harvest of that crop is winding down.
“We’re still picking strawberries,” Flamm said as of June 20. “That season has been really good. We put in extra acres this year to meet demand.”
Flamm Orchards grows its strawberries on raised beds with drip irrigation.
“The dryness (in recent weeks) is actually good for the berries,” Flamm said.
Sirles said the flower fields at Rendleman Orchards, where they grow sunflowers and mums, also got off to a good start this season.
This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.