Cold Snap Damages Region 8 Peach Crop

REGION 8 - Unseasonably cold temperatures earlier this month took a big bite out of this year's peach harvest.  And if you love peach cobbler, or fresh peaches for breakfast, your favorite fruit will likely be in short supply this year.  The record cold will wreak havoc on this year's peach harvest, affecting both consumers and growers.

Leon Swihart is Region 8's biggest peach grower. He's the third generation of his family to work in the peach orchard and he knows his business.  However, this year he says business is not good.

He said, "In our area it totally wiped out the peach crop.   It froze the seeds in them, it was real cold for about 2 nights in a row and usually it might drop down for an hour or an hour and a half right at daylight and nip them a little bit but this time it was cold all night long."  And in only a matter of hours, the peaches started to discolor as the freeze damage set in.

Other growers across the state were telling the same story.  Steve Culp an extension agent with the Cooperative Extension Service for twenty six years said, "Anyone who got down to 26 degrees I doubt they will have very many peaches." Culp noted that some areas near Fayetteville experienced temperatures in the teens and that he feels it's the worst cold snap in his career.

However, hope may be on the way in the form of disaster legislation, an emergency declaration handed down by Governor Mike Beebe will help farmers in 48 of Arkansas' counties.  But it will be costly this year at the grocery store for consumers.  Swihart says if he's able to harvest any of his peaches, he expects prices to be around fifty dollars a bushel.

In fact the area's largest produce shipper, Delta Fresh Sales, says you can expect to pay more for watermelon this year as well.  They say the market is twenty to thirty percent over where it was last year.  Seedless watermelon make up 85% of all watermelon grown and they are already pricing at thirty cents a pound compared to twenty-two cents a pound this time last year.

That could mean paying as much as eight to nine dollars in stores this year.  However, the good news may be strawberries.  Most local commercial growers were able to protect their crops and don't expect to see prices rise much if any.  In fact, Bill's Best Berries-- Arkansas Fresh in Newport say you'll be able to find their berries in Wal-Mart stores across Region 8 starting a little later this week.