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April frost takes bite out of peaches

July 09, 1997

By SAMANTHA KRULEWITZ

Staff Writer

The frosty weather that hit Washington County in early April was thought to have destroyed local peach crops, but local farmers say a percentage of their crops survived.

Bruce Barr, of Barr Orchards west of Smithsburg, thought that the cold weather had destroyed his entire peach crop. Barr said that as it turns out, tall the buds that were open froze, but some buds had not opened.

"I have five or six varieties of peaches. I still have about 65 percent of the crop," he said. "Some varieties are very light and have more of a tradition of being tender to cold weather. Some the weather didn't affect at all." He said the fruit is green now, but will ripen soon.

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Roy Byers, of Linden Hall Farm on Downsville Pike in Hagerstown, said the peaches will ripen within the next few weeks and into August.

"I'm not a very big peach grower, but I got about 50 to 60 percent of my crop. The Sunhigh variety really takes more punishment than the rest of the varieties," Byers said. "The damage was done on April 9 with a cold wind. It was a freeze dry like dry ice."

He said that the peach crop has to be thinned, whether it be by weather or by the farmers.

"Each year if you don't thin the peaches you'll end up with peaches the size of apricots," Byers said.

Barr and Byers have apple crops that survived the cold weather. They both said the red delicious variety is the only one that was seriously affected.

Byers said he didn't have to take steps to protect his peaches from the cold because they are on an inclined plane and so have a natural air flow.

Sandy Scott, a horticulture consultant with the Washington County Cooperative Extension Service, said many homeowners with peach trees in their yards didn't fare as well.

"I have not found many homeowners with peaches on their trees," she said. "I've passed farms on the highways that have some, at least they are not too bad."

Orchardists in Washington County said the recent dry weather produces smaller, but sweeter, fruit. It makes customers happy but gives the growers fewer bushels of apples and peaches to sell, said Henry Allenberg of Mountain Spring Orchards in Smithsburg.

He said people in agriculture learn to roll with the meteorological punches.

"We've been through it before and we'll get through it again," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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