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Crops look peachy, after all

August 06, 1997

Crops look peachy, after all

By VANDANA SINHA

Staff Writer

Orchardists surveying their peach and apple crops said this year's spring freeze and summer drought did not do as much harm as they had predicted.

"I thought with the bad weather, we would really be suffering. But the crops are coming through pretty decently. I'm really amazed," said Roy Byers, of Linden Hall Orchards south of Hagerstown.

Most orchardists and agriculture experts expected a near total loss of peach and apple yields after an overnight freeze April 9 brought temperatures down to nearly 20 degrees.

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Dry weather since then has only worsened matters, orchardists said.

But scattered showers on mountainside orchards, light irrigation and aggressive root systems kept enough late fruit blossoms alive to give "reasonably good to some cases excellent crops," said Don Schwartz, Washington County agricultural extension agent.

On average, 50 percent of the normal peach yield in the approximately 25 commercial fruit orchards in Washington and Frederick counties have pulled through the harsh weather, said Rick Heflebower, regional extension specialist for fruit crops.

He said it is too early to predict the outcome of apple crops, which are harvested in late September and early October.

"I believe there's more fruit out there than what we had hoped for," said Ben Clopper, of Clopper Orchards in Smithsburg.

Clopper said his overall yield has reached 75 percent on peaches, with some later varieties netting between 80 percent and full harvest. He's said he's retrieved about 75 percent of his plum blossoms and his apple output so far looks "wonderful."

"We were really singing the blues back in April," he said.

Even orchardists less fortunate than Clopper agreed that yields proved better than projections.

"Everyone had a doomsday philosophy back then," said Byers, who said 60 percent of his apple crops and 60 percent to 75 percent of his peach crops are viable today.

Henry Allenberg, of Mountain Spring Orchards in Smithsburg, is looking at about 60 percent retention of his peach blocks and 50 percent of his apple blocks - results that are more due to last year's soaking than this year's drought, he said.

"Obviously, this is not going to put a Mercedes in the garage," he said. "But we are thankful for what we have."

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