Weather Wreaks Havoc on Stone Fruit Season

Weather instability and mounting pest pressure seem to be among the typical woes for stone fruit growers. The lack of chill hours have been hurting bloom on both coasts, with growers from both the sides of the country highlighting the complications this has on their growing seasons in American Fruit Grower and Western Fruit Grower’s 2018 State of the Industry.

This past season brought some of everything says a peach grower from the Southeast: “Lowest chill accumulation on record, late spring freeze, tornado, hail, and a hurricane.”

While many growers were reluctant to say man-made climate change has been a factor in what growers are experiencing with growing conditions, one peach grower from the Northeast says it simply: “Bloom periods in Virginia from before World War II stayed the same until the early to mid-’90s, and then it was no longer stable. Then by the 2000s, it started to become very volatile with extremity. [Man-made climate change] is simple really.”

While many responses to the challenges facing the stone fruit industry indicated labor as a complicating factor, spotted wing drosophila (SWD) and other invasive pests are a big threat to the stone fruit crops, as one peach and sweet cherry grower says, “cracking, SWD and brown marmorated stink bug” are among the biggest challenges.”

But a sweet cherry grower from the Northwest says a major challenge is simply “overproduction and lack of good dessert-quality early cherries.” This was echoed by a fellow Northwestern sweet cherry grower who says the challenge is “planting a variety that has an excellent track record for production, is rain crack resistant, and has excellent quality.”

And most surprising was how many growers from around the country see opportunities in organic stone fruit production. Midwest, West, Northwest, you name it, growers are recognizing consumers’ preference for organic produce and are looking to deliver.