Local peach crops struggle to recover from hail and drought

July 21—A severe hailstorm, combined with persistent drought, has impacted the harvest of several peach farms in the region this year.

Kyle Livesay, a worker at Livesay Orchards in Porter, said he had a lower crop due to a hailstorm in early May. The hail knocked about 90% of the crop to the ground, while the immature peaches were still green and about the size of a quarter.

“[The peaches] weren’t much bigger than hail,” Livesay said.

Peaches that were not knocked down from trees received hail scars. Livesay said while the weight of the hail hit the fruit, it also damaged some of the smaller trees. Due to the lower harvest this year, Livesay only had enough peaches to be open for a day or two here and there.

Livesay said Orchard has been behind for about two weeks, but has recently almost caught up. The lag is partly due to the orchard not being able to start harvesting until around June 15, due to a late frost.

“Right from the start, it all seemed like a pretty late harvest,” Livesay said.

Livesay’s store has sold peaches from South Carolina and Texas this year, but they’re expensive — around $49 a half bushel — and aren’t always available. Customers should call before coming to Porter.

Shortline Elderberry Farms owner Loretta Merritt said she wouldn’t have had a problem with the late frost because her peaches are a late-blooming variety. However, they had problems due to the drought and the hailstorm, which decimated the harvest.

Merritt said while most of his peach trees were damaged, the fruit itself suffered the most. The tenderness of the peaches and the stage of development they were in were major factors in the devastation of the crop. Merritt said what hail didn’t wash away peaches, drought did.

“You associate this damage with drought, and the trees will be fine, but the crop has been devastated,” Merritt said.

Merritt said drought doesn’t just affect crop yield, it can also affect fruit size, sweetness and flavor. The farm hopes to be able to produce peaches for the coming year.

“Farming is not an exact science. You can’t control the weather,” Merritt said.

Cherokee County Oklahoma State University Extension Service Agriculture and 4-H Youth Development Educator Jodie Parolini said another common problem she’s noticed with this year’s peach crop is brown rot. The fungus, which looks like mold and makes the peach soft, can cause other problems, such as fruit rot and twig blight.

To ensure brown rot isn’t found, Parolini said, growers must have proper sanitation and good harvesting practices. Some ways to do this are to keep the crop on a spray schedule and to remove bad fruit from the trees.

Another environmental factor that Parolini has noticed is the oriental fruit moth. This insect will leave small holes in the peach where a clear substance will begin to flow out. To avoid this, growers should also spray on a tight schedule for moths.

Parolini said she wasn’t entirely sure peaches were particularly difficult to grow; she thinks it just depends on where the crop is grown. Well-drained soil that doesn’t stay waterlogged is a good indicator of where to plant peach trees, she said.

Merritt said his biggest piece of advice is for growers to grow varieties that flower late and suit their specific climate. This will eliminate problems caused by late frost.

For more information on fisheries growth and development, call the Cherokee County OSU Extension Office at 918-456-6163.

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