Some three months after a week-long run of freezing and much-colder-than-normal April temperatures, Arkansas fruit farmers are finding out the true extent of the damage to their crops, particularly peach growers.
Peaches seemed to get the worst of it. The timing of the frost was devastating as the young peaches were just beginning to develop.
Joey Jamison grows peaches. His family has operated an orchard in south Arkansas near Nashville since the 1930s. “I’m below average,” Jamison said. “My crop is only 30 to 40 percent of what it should be.” A 60- to 70-percent loss! One night in April is how he describes it.
“Really, it was just four hours… four hours at 31 degrees. It killed a lot of them outright and damaged the others,” Jamison said. Cooler than normal temperatures throughout the rest of April also played havoc on his crop. He says the surviving fruit didn’t develop the way it should. “So now my peaches that are here, they don’t have the size I normally have.”
Jamison had a complete crop failure in 2007 and an almost complete loss in 2009 due to hard spring freezes. “I’ve been doing this all my life, and you’ve got to expect to be disappointed if you’re a farmer,” he said. He also lost 150 seven-year-old trees in February due to 14 inches of rain that month. They drowned. Those trees would have put off their first peach crop this year. When asked what the best defense is against such things that are out of his control, Jamison retorted, “prayer.”
“We lost between 5 and 10 percent of our bud shoots from our early variety grapes,” said Joseph Post of Post Winery in Altus on Saint Mary’s Mountain. “That freeze was April 7, and we actually had snow. It’s kind of unusual to have snow in April the opening day of turkey season.”
Post was able to look at the bright side despite the loss. “We got off pretty blessed,” he said. “It could have been a whole lot worse, so we’re not complaining.”
Arkansas fruit and berry growers are still paying for the freeze of three months ago, despite it being stiflingly hot and humid now. That’s farming. But they plug on always hoping and praying for a better future, always thinking ahead.
“Sure could use some rain right now,” Clyde Fenton mused. “We haven’t had any for a while.”