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!