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Weather may cut Texas peach crop

Erin Mulvane, Houston Chronicle
Updated 10:44 pm, Monday, April 22, 2013

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  • Peaches from Burg's Corner near Stonewall, TX, fresh off the tree. Tuesday, May 29, 2012. Photo: BOB OWEN,  STAFF / © 2012 San Antonio Express-News
    Peaches from Burg's Corner near Stonewall, TX, fresh off the tree. Tuesday, May 29, 2012. Photo: BOB OWEN, STAFF

 

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Two-timing Texas weather could leave peach lovers feeling jilted this summer.

Growers say the prized summer crop could be barely a quarter of its normal size because of warmer-than-usual winter temperatures in the prime growing regions, followed by an ill-timed freeze that killed many fruit blossoms in their most vulnerable stage of life.

"We've definitely had some damage," said Larry Stein, a Texas A&M University Agri-Life Extension horticulturist in Uvalde. "A lot of fruit has been lost, but there are still some peaches around."

With the short supply, consumers could pay more when the peaches start showing up in late May, another AgriLife spokesman predicted.

Peaches do best when they have a sustained period of cool weather, roughly 18 days of temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees, during the winter. And extreme freezing temperatures in the spring can destroy blooms or young fruit, although the extent of damage can vary by peach variety.

This growing season, peach trees in the state's major growing regions of Central and North Texas and the Rolling Plains suffered from a double-whammy of a warmer-than-usual winter, followed by late-March temperatures as low as 22 degrees.

Many trees were either in full bloom or had begun to produce small fruit when the freeze hit, catching growers off-guard.

"The more advanced in the bloom stage, the more susceptible to the cold they are," Stein said.

The harvest season typically runs from early June into July, although some farmer's markets see peaches as early as May. The juicy fruit is a major tourist draw in Central Texas towns, such as Fredericksburg and other areas during late spring and summer months.

The peach forecast is better in Southeast Texas, which has a few scattered growers that produce for farmer's markets. Rainfall varied from zero to as much as 5 inches, though experts say most of the region could use more moisture.

The 300 or so producing trees at Boerger Farm near Wharton experienced only a slight frost, and owner Weldon Boerger said he expects good things when he harvests in mid-May. He sells his peaches at farmer's markets in the Houston area.

"It takes about 28 degrees to kill a peach," Boerger said. "We didn't get that cold. I'm seeing a good crop."

But Boerger understands the vagaries of the weather. Last year, for example, his crop was smaller than usual because of a mild winter.

"It can be too cold, could be not cold enough, we could get a hail storm," he said. "It's definitely not a given."

He said that if the damage is as bad as forecast for the major producing areas - more than 1 million peach trees are planted statewide, making peaches the leading fruit crop - it would represent a major loss to the state.

But Mother Nature could have a couple of nice surprises in store for peach lovers, Stein said. The persistent drought means more sunshine, which helps give the fruit better flavor.

And because of the thinning caused by the freeze, Stein said the surviving crop should yield larger fruit of excellent quality. "The fruit size should be really outstanding this year," he said.