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Fruit loss less than thought

June 02, 1997

By VANDANA SINHA

Staff Writer

Fears that an April 9 freeze had wiped out Washington County's peach and apple crop were unfounded, agricultural officials and orchardists say.

"The initial concerns were that there would be no peaches," said Don Schwartz, county agricultural extension agent.

J.D. Rinehart, of Ringgold's Rinehart Orchards, expected his output to be smaller than what he predicts now - about half of his peach crop and about two-thirds of his apple crop.

"That's pretty good after being hit by those cold temperatures," he said. "Things look better than they did on the first day after the freeze."

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A more official compilation of the orchards' welfare is expected in early June when farmers have a better idea of how apples fared. Depending on their susceptibility to frost and location on hillsides, apple trees have had widely differing yields.

Farmers have been examining their trees to see which fruits will remain on the branches and which will fall off in order to assess actual damage.

"Everyone is in a wait-and-see kind of mode," said Colleen Cashell, Washington County executive director for the Farm Service Agency.

Temperatures this spring have been lower than average, resulting in slower fruit development that is more difficult to track, Cashell said.

Farmers have a similar tale to tell. Ben Clopper, of Clopper Orchards one mile east of Smithsburg, said his apple and peach crops were sliced in half due to the freeze. He also lost more than 90 percent of his crop of sweet cherries, an item he cannot sell at all this year.

"I figure it's not going to pay enough to even pick the cherries," said Gardenhour Orchards' owner Bill Gardenhour, who said he lost all of his sweet cherries. "Now the birds can eat the rest."

Rinehart lost the bulk of his Red Delicious apples to the frost. Since the cold spell in April, he said temperatures have stayed above 30 degrees, a harmless level for fruit.

Gardenhour, however, has reported additional frosts since the April freeze. "It's not uncommon, but we've had more than our fair share of cold," said Gardenhour, whose orchard is north of Smithsburg.

"In order for me to tell you how hard the freeze hit, I'm going to have to look at my bank balance in November," Clopper said. "It's probably not going to be a big year for us in money, but I'm confident we're going to be in business another year."

Nevertheless, Clopper is not disgruntled, attributing this year's freeze to chance. "For fruit growers, it could happen again in the next year or the next 20 years," he said. "Who knows?"

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