Chaotic spring crushes fruit crops, especially in Erie area
By Rick Wills
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
Updated: Wednesday, May 9, 2012
A series of April frosts and freezes means consumers will find fewer Pennsylvania apples and peaches this summer, and grapes and cherries from the Lake Erie region could be scarce.
"The damage in the area around Erie is the most severe in the state. There have been several cold events, including five straight days of frost" this spring, said James Schupp, an associate professor at Penn State University's Fruit Research and Extension in Biglerville, Adams County.
Northwestern Pennsylvania is part of a vast fruit-producing region that roughly follows the Great Lakes, where losses this spring of apples, grapes and cherries have been staggering, said Schupp. Warm weather brought early buds to trees and vines, before the frost.
"We are talking about 25 to 30 million bushels of fruit -- about one-quarter of the nation's fruit. It is a huge economic loss for these areas," he said.
Some grocers and wholesalers might have difficulty buying fruit, said Jon Clements, produce supervisor for Kuhn's, which operates eight supermarkets in the region.
"We love to support local, as much as we can. This could make that harder with some things," he said.
For growers in the Pittsburgh region, damage from six weeks of topsy-turvy weather was not as severe, although fruit trees suffered.
"We are looking at a 70 to 80 percent loss of peaches. They are not very cold-weather tolerant. The temperature swings have been pretty crazy this spring," said Adam Voll, manager of Soergel Orchards, which operates a store and two farms in Prospect and Franklin Park.
Trax Farms in Finleyville experienced minimal damage, said Bob Trax, whose family owns the farm.
"We are very lucky, and not everyone else is," he said.
Growers in the state's southcentral region also were lucky, said Schupp. In Adams County, where half of Pennsylvania's apples grow, the crop should be good, as will production of famed Chambersburg peaches, he said.
But as late as April 29, northeast Erie County experienced temperatures of 26 degrees.
"That kind of weather is not necessarily a problem in April. We had a couple weeks of summer in March. That was the problem," said Rich Erdle, member services director for the Westfield, N.Y.-based National Grape Cooperative, which owns Welch's.
The first grape bud breaks in the Erie region happened 36 days earlier than normal, and repeated frosts and freezes damaged at least 50 percent of the region's grapevines, Erdle said.
"It's the worst damage to grape production in the area since 1977," said Erdle, who lost about half the grapes on his farm.
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