Poor peach crop this year; Eckert's won't have pick-your-own

News-DemocratJune 13, 2014 

There will be no peaches at Mike Henry's orchard this year.

He recently counted only 15 peaches within his grove in Washington County. But he knew this year's crop at his Simonton Orchards in Okawville was lost months ago, when temperatures consistently fell below freezing and also reached sub-zero levels earlier this year.

"In January, it got too cold," Henry said. "I knew we lost everything."

Schwartz Orchard in Centralia and Mount Vernon also reported that their entire peach crop is gone.

The news is not much better in Belleville, where Braeutigam Orchards raises peaches on Turkey Hill Lane. While the orchard's cherries and blueberries are ready for picking, farmhand Aaron Province estimates that the harsh winter has killed most of the peach crop.

"I think we are only going to have 15 to 20 percent of our crop," Province said. "We're having some, but which varieties, I'm not entirely sure. I know we lost a few varieties because of the freeze that came while they were blooming."

At Eckert's Orchard in Belleville, company president Chris Eckert said they will have peaches, but it will be less than half the usual amount.

"We are fortunate that we have a crop," Eckert said.

He also said there will be plenty of peaches stocked at Eckert's Country Store beginning at the end of next week, but there will be no wholesale peaches available from the metro-east orchard this year. Pick-your-own peaches will also not be offered for visitors, but the orchard will have a pick-your-own vegetable garden in its place and provide customers a chance to select from tomatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers, squash and beets raised on Eckert's Farm.

Henry, who has owned and operated Simonton Orchards since 1992, said the only other time his peach crop was lost was in 2006, when a springtime frost wiped out his crop.

He said the difference is that this year's crop was lost during the previous winter. He said that usually the winter months do not have hurt the crop as much the occasional springtime frost.

"It's kind of unusual to lose them from cold weather," he said. "Usually, you lose them from frost during the spring, but this was due to the cold in January."

This past winter was the fourth-coldest in Illinois history. According to the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the average temperature recorded statewide last December, January and February was 20.8 degrees -- 8.2 degrees below the long-term average temperature.

Henry expects many other peach growers in the region will struggle to produce any crop this year. He also said the harvest will be delayed for orchards that do bear fruit.

David Harris, of Rendleman Orchards in Alto Pass, located about 90 miles south of Belleville, said the winter freeze did not affect his Southern Illinois orchard as hard as it did those in the metro-east region, but anticipates his harvest will be delayed by at least a week.

"Crops will be coming later, by about a week to 10 days, but we will have peaches," Harris said.

"We are very fortunate that we will have a good crop down here."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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