Editor’s note: The following article is a longer version than the one that appears in the April 16 print and digital editions of The Packer, and contains coverage on additional commodities and regions.

(April 13) Growers were estimating damages, and buyers were scrambling to secure supplies after killer Easter weekend freezes destroyed nearly all of South Carolina’s peaches, damaged part of Georgia’s peaches and most of North Carolina’s apples.

The surprise series of freezes, which struck April 8-10, hit much later in the spring than normal for the South and crippled the region’s peach production.

Subfreezing temperatures did the worst damage to South Carolina’s peaches.

“The industry feels fortunate to have 10% of our normal commercial volume,” said Martin Eubanks, director of marketing for the Columbia-based South Carolina Department of Agriculture. “It was widespread, and it was devastating. The entire state was impacted.”

Thanks to warmer-than-normal spring weather, trees in the ridge area, the state’s primary production region, had been long past bloom. The mid-20s temperatures destroyed some orchards while other orchards showed signs of potential to bear fruit, Eubanks said. He said growers would monitor the status of the few orchards that were not harmed.

CAROLINA LOSSES

Chalmers “Hap” Carr Jr., owner of Titan Peach Farms Inc., Ridge Spring, S.C., said the freeze killed 50% to 90% of his 3,000 acres of peaches.

He said he hopes the final damage estimate won’t be on the high side so he can still supply his customers some peaches.

“We had the best spring you could ask for,” Carr said. “We were at above-normal temperatures with no rainfall in the bloom. We had perfect conditions for a beautiful crop. How you could go from such perfect to so bad conditions in one night, that’s the tough thing.”

Kurt Schweitzer, co-owner of Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., Greencastle, Pa., said buyers should expect to pay more for peaches this summer.

Georgia, he said, should help with the East’s expected smaller volume.

“We will have enough peaches out of Georgia to handle what we would normally supply our retail customers,” Schweitzer said. “They will be able to have fruit. We don’t want the overall community to run away from Georgia peaches because there will be enough peaches to supply the Eastern regional area for their needs.”

Estimates have Georgia losing 20% to 50% of its peaches.

WEST COAST SUPPLIES

Schweitzer said California production, which starts in mid-May and runs through the end of the summer — similar to the East Coast deal — should send a fair amount of its peaches to East Coast buyers.

“They will definitely be able to supply peaches,” Schweitzer said. “Their crop is in good shape.”

Phil Neary, director of operations and grower relations at Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J., the sales agent for Jersey Fruit Cooperative Association Inc., said New Jersey might have lost some peaches in low-lying areas.

Only a few varieties were in full bloom when temperatures fell to the mid-20s in some spots, he said.

“We are still looking at a full crop potential,” he said April 11. “We feel reasonably confident that we’re in good shape in New Jersey, where we weren’t in as susceptible a stage of crop development as they were down south.”

APPLES HURT

Allan Henderson, chief executive officer of apple and vegetable grower-shipper C.L. Henderson Produce Co., Hendersonville, N.C., said freezing temperatures hit up and down the East Coast.

“The whole Eastern Seaboard was affected,” he said. “All fruits and vegetables from below Michigan and Pennsylvania (were affected).”

Temperatures in western North Carolina’s apple growing region fell as low as 18 degrees on Easter morning and remained there for up to eight hours while the trees were in full bloom, Henderson said.

The cold continued on April 9 and April 10, when temperatures hit the lower 20s, destroying up to 80% of the state’s apples.

“So what didn’t kill on Sunday hit us Monday and Tuesday,” Henderson said. “It’s a disaster.”

Henderson said he and other growers likely lost all of their early varieties such as galas, goldens and red delicious.

He said he was waiting to see if any of the secondary blooms survive.

EASTERN SHORE APPLES

Despite the lower-than-normal temperatures, growers in the northern parts of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley escaped serious damage that normally accompanies such freezes, said Philip Glaize Jr., owner of Fred L Glaize, Winchester, Va.

“Though we have lost a certain percentage of the buds in the clusters, every blossom cluster still has live buds in them,” he said April 12. “If we have no adverse weather from here on and have good pollinating conditions, we should come through with a manageable crop.”

The Shenandoah Valley represents half of Virginia’s apple production.

Southern and central Virginia saw major damage to its apples, Keystone’s Schweitzer said.

He said galas and early varieties that had been in bloom along with red delicious and goldens were hurt the most.

Production further north in the Winchester area should see less damage and still have the potential for a good crop, Schweitzer said.

Areas north of Winchester should see less damage and have the potential for a good crop, he said.

BLUEBERRIES HARMED

Temperatures that sank to 16-17 degrees may have knocked out up to 70% of North Carolina’s blueberry production, said Dennis Harrell, general manager of the Carolina Blueberry Cooperative Association Inc., Garland.

“Right now, it looks like a late November frost. The leaves are brown,” Harrell said April 12. “Anyone who didn’t irrigate (for frost protection) will likely lose their whole crop. The ones who did frost/freeze-protect probably lost 50%.”

As temperatures were starting to rise a little, he said growers April 12 were beginning to see the extent of the damage to the berries that are grown in the southeastern part of the state.

Harrell said growers should have a better understanding of their losses by April 17.

New Jersey’s blueberries appeared to have survived the cold snap, Sunny Valley’s Neary said.

MELON LOSSES

South Carolina watermelon growers lost up to 25% of their crop after temperatures dipped to 30 degrees April 7, said Bradley O’Neal, owner of Coosaw Farms, Fairfax, S.C.

O’Neal said Coosaw plans to replant one field with greenhouse plants and plans to spot plant in other less affected fields.

He said many of the state’s growers faced similar situations. The typical June 1 start of South Carolina’s season will likely will be pushed back to the second week in June after several days of cool weather. O’Neal said the peak of the season likely will still be around June 20.

It wasn’t clear how much South Carolina’s plight would affect melon pricing.

Jamey Adams, vice president of the Dalton-based Georgia Watermelon Association, said that state’s watermelon crop had minimal damage despite temperatures in the 30s April 7-8.

“We had a lot of wind on that coldest night, and that kept the frost off,” he said. “I think the wind saved us.”

Adams said a week’s worth of cool weather could push Georgia’s watermelon harvest back to June 10 or later, but warm weather the rest of the spring could allow plants to catch up.

OTHER VEGETABLES

Billy Heller, chief executive officer of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., Palmetto, Fla., which grows tomatoes in Virginia’s Accomack and Northampton counties, said the region sustained damage from three inches of snow that fell April 6 as well as freezing temperatures that hit April 8-11.

“There is damage,” he said April 12. “There’s impact, but to what degree we cannot say. It will affect how the crop comes off.”

Eastern Shore tomato production normally begins in early July. The low temperatures, Heller said, could push production back a little. Heller said growers would have a better estimate of damage April 16.

David Robishaw, a representative in the division of marketing for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Richmond, said growers were assessing damage April 12.

“There will be some loss scattered across the state,” he said. “It’s hard to tell at the moment.”

On Eastern Shore vegetables, Steve Cody, president of Marker 29 Produce Inc., Onancock, Va., said he didn’t think many vegetables had been planted.

“There’s not too many vegetables planted or grown there anymore,” he said.

In South Carolina, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency and the state’s extension service were developing detailed damage assessment reports April 11 for all of the state’s crops hurt by the freeze, Eubanks said.

—Additional reporting by Handling & Distributing Editor David Mitchell

Freeze cripples peaches; apples ‘a disaster’
Duke Lane III (left), vice president of sales for Lane Packing LLC, Fort Valley, Ga., and Mark Sanchez, chief operating officer, examine early varieties of peaches April 11. Georgia peach growers suffered losses of 20% to 50% after a surprise late freeze struck the East Coast April 8.