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Peach harvest expected to be average

July 13, 2000

Peach harvest expected to be average



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

Peach HarvestTri-State orchardists are expecting only an average peach harvest this year, although many are thankful they have escaped the threat of the plum pox virus so far.

Local fruit stands are selling early varieties of cling peaches. The popular red haven, coveted for its easier-to-remove stone, will be picked next week, about a week ahead of schedule.

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The area has seen no sign of the plum pox virus, which ravaged several farms in nearby Adams County, Pa., last fall.

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Maryland agriculture officials have tested leaf samples from every orchard in Washington and Frederick counties.

"We're definitely encouraged because we're not finding it in our commercial orchards. We're optimistic," said Anne Sindermann, plant pathologist at the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture has tested 2,600 samples, mostly in the Eastern Panhandle where the state's fruit industry is concentrated, said Henry Hogmire, West Virginia University extension specialist.

Orchardists in Franklin County, Pa., are still holding their breath. Testing began this week.

"We're anxious to get that done and over with. That does worry us," said Becky Andrews of Andrews Mountainside Farms in St. Thomas, Pa.

There is no cure for the virus. To keep it from spreading, the only option is removal of trees, which is devastating to growers who have to wait 10 years before new trees grow to provide full production.

"It's kind of scary because half our income comes from growing peaches," said Dwight Mickey, a grower in Chambersburg, Pa.

Officials haven't figured out how the virus originated, said Nancy Richwine of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Andrews, however, said she feels fortunate to have a full crop of peaches this year.

"It's wonderful. We have a beautiful crop," she said.

Most area extension agents and growers said the average peach crop is 60 percent to 70 percent full.

"It's probably an average to below-average crop. I think it's OK for most of the growers," said Bill Kleiner, regional fruit agent for the Pennsylvania State University Extension Service.

"I think if you asked whether they would trade this year for last most would say no," Hogmire said.

Area fruit trees, still recovering from last year's drought, have been plagued by scattered frost and spotty hail damage this growing season.

April 13 brought localized frost that practically wiped out cherries and killed the buds on some peach trees.

Last year's drought was not as devastating to orchardists as it was to other farmers. But it took a toll, especially at orchards that weren't irrigated.

Even though few orchards are at peak production, the size and flavor of the fruit will be good, growers said.

Plenty of rain this year has made the peaches plump and juicy.

"The biggest thing we need is sunshine," which makes them sweet, said Matthew Harsh of Clopper Orchards in Smithsburg.

Peaches are big business in the Tri-State area, second only to apples in the fruit industry.

The Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia produces an average of 270,000 bushels of peaches a year valued at $2.9 million.

The 1998 peach crop in Franklin County, Pa., was worth $3 million.

Washington County numbers were unavailable.

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