Bedford County Fruit Growers Hit by Freeze

6/1/2013 7:00 AM
By Linda Williams Southwestern Pa. Correspondent

BEDFORD, Pa. — The unseasonably chilly night of May 13 was a sleepless one for fruit growers in many areas of Pennsylvania, especially those in Bedford County, where the “freeze” hit especially hard in the lower-lying orchards.

“It was a freeze’ and not just a frost,” said Lois Boyer, wife of Dan Boyer and co-owner of Ridgetop Orchards in the Chestnut Ridge area.

“It’s too early to tell how much damage was done,” she said the next weekend. “The trees were in petal fall and we have various elevations of orchards, so we will just have to wait and see.”

Boyer noted that last year they weathered multiple frosts but still had a great crop.

Ridgetop Orchards has 450 acres of fruit and elevations ranging from 1,300 to 1,800 feet, which does help deter spring frosts.

One of the most unfortunate facets of the May 13 frost was the length of time it stayed cold. Temperatures nose-dived early that night and continued until morning.

Susan Leonard of Leonards Orchards, also in the Ridge area, said it was 25 degrees when she looked at the thermometer about 2 a.m.

The Leonards have apple trees, some peach and plum trees, and also grow a lot of produce to be sold at the local farmers market throughout the year.

“We will have to wait and see, and will have to deal with what we get,” Leonard said with the optimistic attitude characteristic of most farmers.

Meanwhile, the entire Leonard family is so busy planting produce they have barely had time to think about any downsides.

“Most people don’t realize that even though we may lose our crop, we still have to pollinate and spray,” Leonard said.

Thomas G. Ford, commercial horticulture educator at Penn State Extension, Cambria County, attended a twilight meeting of Bedford County growers May 22 in New Enterprise.

“None of the growers are willing to provide a clear estimate as to their losses at this time,” Ford said, “but they will go on record and state that the damage is significantly worse than 2012.

“I haven’t visited every orchard, but it appears that the apple trees at the higher elevations (over 900 feet) will have a partial crop,” Ford said. “Apple trees below 900 feet were hit hard.

“Some of the trees have a few viable fruits, but most of these apples will bear frost rings and other malformations as a result of the freeze injury,” he said.

“However, the cherry crop looks good in the area, and most growers are still optimistic about their peach crop though split pits may be a problem,” Ford said.

“To complicate the predictions,” he said, “most apple growers are seeing a limited secondary bloom, which limits our ability to estimate the apple crop yield potential in Bedford County at this time.

“And, most of the apple growers are very thankful they carry some level of crop insurance on their apple crops,” Ford said.

Meanwhile, Robert M. Crassweller, professor of horticulture at Penn State University, said he has spent a couple of weeks looking at orchards in western, central and northern Pennsylvania.

Crassweller agrees with the growers who feel it is still a little early to tell the extent of the damage. He also agrees with Ford that damage was definitely worse in low-lying areas and less so in the higher elevations.

He said he has found that strawberries were hurt badly, which he would expect since they are so low to the ground.

Crassweller heads up Penn State’s research orchards in Centre County.

“We have peaches, cherries and some Asian pears,” he said. “The apples are still tough to determine, but I suspect it will not be as bad as it was last year in this area.”

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