It goes without saying that farming of any sort involves a lot of risk. Those of us growers in the fruit industry incur a little more risk than normal. We have the same commodity and market risk as other growers, but I’d contend that we have a higher risk of weather related events.
First, there’s drought which can affect all farmers. 2012 will long be remembered by those in the midwest for the record setting drought there. It drove grain prices sky high as the markets gradually realized that despite a record-setting acreage for corn, the yields would be mediocre at best. (It actually turned out to be the 7th highest total yield.) Many of our neighbors here in the East will forget that we also had a short drought here. It caused us a great deal of mortality in a newly planted field of strawberries, which will probably take us an extra year to recover.
On the flip side of drought, is too much rain. You’ll rarely hear a grain farmer complain about too much rain, but fruit growers fret over it. Rain brings conditions favorable for disease that can disfigure fruit or even kill a tree. We work hard to use varieties and methods that prevent disease, but the most effective tool is timely application of fungicides. Which means that fruit growers are constantly watching the weather to try to prevent disease before it starts to rain.
Our most dreaded weather foe is undoubtedly hail. Two minutes of hail in a violent thunderstorm can completely destroy a crop. And not just one fruit type – but everything in every orchard. And since thunderstorms strike in the summertime, it means that all of the costs are already sunk and there is no way to retrieve them. If you’re already in debt, a hailstorm can knock you out of the game for good.
Finally, there is the spring freeze. All fruit trees go through a blooming phase, where they are especially vulnerable to cold weather. If we experience freezing temperatures for more than a few hours during bloom, we begin losing the crop. Chances are good you didn’t realize that after the big front brought us needed rain last Friday, that the resulting northly winds on Saturday ushered in freezing conditions for much of Pennsylvania. I awoke this morning and checked my thermometer right away: 32.9. I later took a look at the climate conditions page for PA, and watched an animated map of Pennsylvania temperatures Saturday night. By 4:00 AM the freezing temperatures were nearing Adams County and by 6:00 AM they were in York County, but just as they neared us… the sun rose.
Today, we were saved by the dawn. Hopefully, our luck with the weather will continue for oh, another seven months!
Our apricot block on Tuesday 4/16.
If you had told me last weekend that we’d have peaches in bloom in 4 days, I wouldn’t have believed it. The usual pattern of bloom in our orchard is pretty simple: apricots come first and last for a few days, followed by a few days of plums, followed by a few varieties of peaches. But this year, thanks to a record high temperature on Wednesday (90!) we experienced the whole cycle in 3 days. Apricots were in full bloom Tuesday, plums on Wednesday, and our first peaches were blooming Thursday. Wow!
Bloom has a big impact on the orchard. First of all, it means that it is time to be done pruning (we’re not). It means that the trees are highly vulnerable to disease from any passing shower (we had a 30 hour wetting period on Friday causing us to scramble to provide protection). It means that we have a very narrow window of opportunity to try to blossom thin our peaches in order to reduce the hand thinning work that will need to be done later in the season. And it also means that anything we are going to plant needs to be in the ground very soon, which means we are spreading lime, fertlizer, and marking rows. Throw in two flat tires, a broken drive belt on the sprayer, and a few other mechanical issues, and needless to say, it was a really busy week.
With all of this work going on, it is easy to miss the beauty around us. I was thinning some peach blossoms by hand when it occured to me that… well, it was a really “pretty” job. Heck, some people might even pay to stand in an orchard of blooms on a bright sunny day and run their hands across the limbs to knock off a few flowers!
The weather forecast calls for a little more seasonal weather this week, which is fine with me.
I’d like to stop — ok, maybe just slow down — and smell the flowers a little, before they are all gone.
I’ve just completed my first full week of work on the farm. This is the time of the year when there is a lot of… hurry up and wait. As I mentioned before, our pruning is a little behind schedule, but so is spring. In fact, it was 19 at my house earlier this week. So we aren’t too stressed about the pruning progress. It looks like all will be done in time.
As I was out in the field this week catching up on the pruning progress, I noticed something white down at the big pond. Many of you hunters out there know the sensation… there is something down there that isn’t always there: it must be an animal. White at the top, white at the bottom, brown in between and standing at the edge of the pond. Sure enough it was a big eagle. I continued on my path which came close to the pond and the eagle rose up into a locust tree as if to show off. He was immense, and unafraid. Hopefully he found one of those muskrats that have been digging in the bank. This is exactly the kind of thing you don’t get to see while working in an office.
There are a lot of things I know I’m going to love about this new adventure. And the best part is that I don’t even know what all those things will be. Because every day is different.