Brutal winter leaves Valley peach-less

By Kalea Hall

Dan Simmons got only seven peaches out of the 15 acres of peach trees he has at Peace Valley Orchards in Rogers.

Because of the brutal below-zero temperatures this winter there are no local producing peach orchards in the Valley. In fact, most of Ohio has no peaches.

Despite the loss, farmers here are optimistic about the future of their peach orchards and they know events like this are just a part of being a farmer.

For now, many farmers with markets are having their stock of peaches shipped in.

“We have no choice,” Simmons said.

This winter, counting December through February, was the Valley’s eighth-coldest winter season, said Eric Wilhelm, chief meteorologist at 21 WFMJ-TV, The Vindicator’s broadcast partner.

The last time the Valley lost its peaches was in 1994 — the 14th-coldest winter.

There were several below-zero mornings. The lowest temperature accounted for is 12 below zero, which happened Jan. 7 and Jan. 28. Between January and March there were 25 days with a temperature of 5 below zero.

Simmons said he knew in January the peach crop would take a hit. Agriculture and natural resources educator Eric Barrett said the buds on the peach trees go when the temperatures hit 12 below to 15 below zero.

“It is not the best peach area in the country, but we do produce good peaches when we have a decent winter,” Barrett said.

The seasoned trees at Peace Valley took a harder hit this winter than the 5 acres of newly planted trees did.

“You only need 10 percent of the buds to make it a full crop,” Simmons said. “They don’t like the cold weather.”

The Farm Service Agency that covers Mahoning and Columbiana counties and is a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has the Tree Assistance Program to help offset the cost of planting new trees. To use the program, the farmers must have at least 18 percent of trees lost or damaged because of the cold. The farmers then have to wait for new trees, which could take two years or longer depending on the demand, plant them and submit the information to the FSA to receive payment.

“We have multiple farmers’ [applications] and we are working with most of our local orchard farmers,” said Jill Ritchie, county executive director for FSA.

Simmons is one of the farmers applying for the FSA program after losing 20 percent of his peach crop, equivalent to about 630 trees.

Outside of the loss of the crop, Simmons said peach farmers also lose the time and effort peach trees require.

“You still have to prune them and spray them without the peaches,” Simmons said. “You have to realize that fruit growers aren’t in it for the money; they are in it because they love what they are doing.”

The primary crop at Peace Valley is apples, but in the summer months the peaches keep the market going. Shipments of the peaches are coming in from central Pennsylvania for the market.

Rick Molnar of Molnar Farms in Poland also has to have his market peaches shipped in. The 100-year-old farm has been in the peach business for about 30 years. Its main staples are corn, peaches and tomatoes, and grain is also a top crop.

Molnar knew in February and March after bringing some of the branches inside and seeing if they would pop, but nothing happened.

“There was just no bloom,” Molnar said. “We were more concerned about the trees.”

The peach trees are very sensitive, Molnar said. The tissue inside the branches freezes and consequently the buds on the branch freeze and, simply put, no peaches.

“It just affects the bottom line because we have to buy [from elsewhere],” Molnar said.

Molnar Farms had some damage to its peach trees, but Molnar isn’t sure how many are dead.

Some of them have been stumped.

“It is what it is,” Molnar said. “If we lose a lot in a little period, that could hurt.”

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