With prices up and pests at reasonable levels, Mid-Atlantic peach growers have a lot to be happy about this season.
A few early-blooming varieties got a little bit of frost damage, but New Jersey growers have gotten timely rains and appropriate temperatures.
“It’s a bumper crop,” said Hemant Gohil, a Rutgers Cooperative Extension agent in Gloucester County.
A big harvest would normally drive prices down, but buyers have been eager for New Jersey peaches this year.
That’s because major peach producers in Georgia and South Carolina are having a terrible season.
Problems were expected early on when the crop did not get enough chill hours for a good fruit set, and frost damage only made the situation worse.
One New Jersey grower said that he was getting about $27 per half bushel for peaches that would have fetched about $17 last year, Gohil said.
Rutgers may actually have softened the blow for Southern growers a little bit.
A Clemson Cooperative Extension agent told Gohil that Gloria, a relatively new variety developed in Rutgers’ breeding program, handled the winter and spring better than a lot of other peach varieties.
Gloria is a late-blooming variety, which helps it avoid frost, Gohil said.
The Northeast has not had a problem with chill hours, but warm temperatures during the growing season have pushed fruit — and insect pests — ahead of schedule.
Still, pest problems have not been out of the ordinary.
Michael Flinchbaugh of Flinchbaugh’s Orchard and Farm Market in Hellam, Pennsylvania, has sprayed his peaches for Japanese beetles.
Brown marmorated stink bugs have appeared sporadically, but not at levels that required spraying, Flinchbaugh said.
This is the time of year when stink bugs start increasing their numbers in orchards, said Greg Krawczyk, a Penn State Extension entomologist.
One of Krawczyk’s doctoral students, Hillary Morin, is spending the summer studying the parasitoids that go after stink bug eggs.
She deploys lots of egg masses to locations with known heavy stink bug populations. After the parasitoids have a chance to find the eggs, Morin brings the masses back to the lab and observes them for about six weeks to see if any parasitoids emerge.
Using the same technique as Morin, researchers in other parts of the Mid-Atlantic have found Trissolcus japonicus, the samurai wasp.
Native to Asia but now found in a few U.S. states, the wasp is the most effective controller of the invasive stink bug.
It’s much more aggressive than native parasitoids, which generally only hit a few eggs in a stink bug mass, Krawczyk said.
Populations of the samurai wasp are still pretty low. Despite the large number of egg masses Morin has studied, she has not found it yet in Pennsylvania.
“We hope we will find it, but it’s kind of like trying to find the needle in the stack of hay,” Krawczyk said.
Still, if the wasp prospers in the Mid-Atlantic, growers might not be talking about the stink bug in five or 10 years, he said.
Meanwhile, Krawczyk has been seeing a lot of split pits in peaches.
Earwigs seem to like crawling into the empty insides of these fruits, as one Philadelphia consumer discovered. The person emailed Krawczyk about it, a little grossed out.
Earwigs are not a huge problem, but there’s not much to be done about them either. Growers don’t spray specifically for earwigs, Krawczyk said.
The spotted lanternfly continues to be a concern for fruit growers in Berks and surrounding counties.
The lanternfly is considered a possible danger to grapes and peaches, but it’s not clear how damaging it can be.
It feeds mainly on wood, not on fruit, so the main risk is that it could overwhelm and kill young trees.
In talking with fruit growers in the lanternfly quarantine area, Krawczyk has so far received no reports of damage from the insect.
Bacterial spot and brown rot have appeared in peach orchards this year, but as with insect problems, disease pressure has been average, said Kari Peter, a Penn State tree fruit pathologist.
“We’ve had very warm and wet conditions. It hasn’t been dry like last year,” Peter said.
Hail hit parts of Adams County early this week. Some Honeycrisp apples got dinged up, and it’s possible that some peaches could have been damaged too, she said.
The disease scene has been a little more active for apples.
Peter has gotten a lot of questions about rust — not from commercial growers who have tools to control it, but from homeowners.
The colorful yellow-orange lesions catch people’s attention, but “unfortunately it’s too late now” to combat it, Peter said.
Apple scab had a long season. Spores started emerging in March, and “we finally hit zero last week,” Peter said.
Still, growers had enough dry days to get in their sprays.
Fire blight was quiet for the second straight year. The weather at bloom time, the most dangerous time for fire blight infection, was not warm or wet enough to give the disease much momentum, Peter said.
There were some fire blight hot spots, but those were probably due to the timing of sprays, Peter said.