YAKIMA – The same factors that produced a later and lighter cherry crop are affecting many Yakima Valley peach growers as well.
Cold spring weather, a late April frost and their impact on pollination has delayed the peach harvesting season, usually at its peak by now, local growers and state agriculture officials say.
“Volume is down because of the cold conditions we saw this spring,” said James Michael, vice president of marketing-North America for the Washington State Fruit Commission. “Besides the severe cold and frost, we had a long, extended cool period that pushed everything back, including the peaches.”
While Michael said there isn’t a formal Washington peach crop estimate, many of the state’s top peach areas were among the coldest points during the April freeze. The consensus among growers is that there is about half of a crop this season, he said.
“We are getting into the peak of peaches now, and will be transitioning through varieties until late September this year,” Michael said. “Traditionally, peach harvest begins in early July and lasts through mid-September, but the cool spring pushed most crops back by at least two weeks.”
Local growers concur with those harvest predictions.
J.L. Thompson of Thompson’s Farm in Naches said while later-blooming fruit trees such as pears and apples should produce “decent” crops this year, early and midsummer fruits weren’t so fortunate.
“It’s kind of a light crop for peaches,” Thompson said. “Frost damage affected peaches, cherries, apricots, plums. We had that late frost right around Easter, and that affected pollination.
“We’re picking some Red Havens right now, but the crop is pretty minimal. Elbertas are not as bad … we have a decent number of donut (peaches),” he said. “A lot of years we do U-pick for peaches, but we’ll have to wait and see this year.”
He advised customers to check the Thompson’s Farm website, which is updated often. On Thursday morning it stated, “Early peaches were badly damaged with the spring weather, but later peaches look more hopeful.
“We will pick what we can and take them to the market. We will only have U-pick in peaches if there is enough fruit.”
Bill’s Berry Farm near Grandview had a healthy number of U-pick customers and families on Aug. 6, but many of them were picking blueberries.
Saturday was and Aug. 20 will be “Sweet as a Peach” day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with Bill’s Berry Farm’s website stating varieties such as Lucky 13 and Galaxy Donut peaches are going fast.
Canning peaches such as Red Havens “will hopefully be available this weekend, with more varieties to follow,” the website stated Thursday morning.
Blueberries, blackberries, plums and raspberries also are available for picking; for more information, visit billsberryfarm.com or call (509) 882-3200.
Cherry harvest wraps up
As predicted, the cold April weather also delayed and reduced the cherry crop in the Yakima Valley and state .
B.J. Thurlby, Northwest Cherry Growers president, noted in late June that the weather pushed back the cherry harvest’s start date by two weeks, with a reduced harvest of 14 million boxes expected. Typically, harvests average 20 million boxes, with a record harvest of 26.43 million boxes of cherries in 2017.
Michael updated that estimate Thursday, saying cherries are still being shipped this week and probably will be for another month due to the delaying effects of the cool spring weather.
“With over 11.5 million boxes shipped so far, it appears likely that our industry will reach our Round 4 crop estimate of 12.4 million boxes, but the overall reduction from weather is noticeable when compared to the two years of 20 million boxes that precede it,” Michael said.
Thompson said his farm in Naches also saw a reduced cherry crop, but eventually it was able to host U-pick customers.
“Our cherries got hit pretty hard, but we were able to do three weekends of U-pick. You just had to work a little harder for them,” Thompson said.
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