Aug 30, 2011
Hurricane Irene fruit crop damage not as bad as feared

Fruit growers in the Eastern United States seem to have been spared much of the damage that was feared from Hurricane Irene when it came to land Aug. 27 and 28.

So far, FGN has learned that much of the southern part of the country that was in Irene’s path over the weekend saw little to no damage. Desmond Layne, a horticulturist from Clemson University in South Carolina, reported that he hadn’t heard of any damage as of Aug. 30.

In Maryland and Virginia, Robert Black of Catoctin Farms reported little damage. He said he lost a few peaches and pears that fell or were blown off. Some of his 1 and 2 year-old trees were knocked over, but otherwise things were OK.

“Luckily, we had only 1.4 inches of rain here,” he said. “Friends north and south have different problems. One near Richmond, Va., had five acres of 1 year-old peach trees that were laid over, and he has worked for the last several days to straighten them back up after getting 10 inches of rain and high winds. He also still has no electric to pump water so he can spray.”

Rosie’s Farm Market in Mullica Hill, N.J., reported no damage from the storm, but other nearby growers might not have been so lucky. Jerome Frecon from Rutgers University said there were many orchard blocks with standing water due to excessive rains and storm surge. Peach, nectarine and apricot trees that sit in water-saturated soils for more than 24 hours quite often die, he said. The trees that don’t die can often develop molds and fungi that eventually kill off the tree as well. It could take some time to see the full effect of Irene’s damage

Representatives of the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program had heard of no significant damage in the central and southern parts of the state as of Aug. 30. They heard reports of lots of wind and rain, but said that the massive storm damage they were preparing for never really happened.

Kay Hollabaugh from Hollabaugh Brothers in Biggerville, Pa., said there wasn’t much damage to talk about.

"We worked like crazy to get our Honeycrisp off the trees on Saturday," said Hollabaugh. "Sunday morning those we weren’t able to pick, were on the ground. We lost some of our Asian pears and Seckel pears, and some young trees that were pretty heavily laden with fruit. It wasn’t near as bad as it might have been, but it’s always kind of sickening to see trees and fruit lying on the ground after a bad storm."

New York’s Big Apple is still around, and so is most of the state’s apple trees, said Peter Gregg, spokesperson for the New York Apple Association. Only a handful of growers had any damage to report, and that was just a few trees knocked over.

“We really dodged a bullet,” Gregg said. “From all accounts it looks as though, aside from a handful of growers who saw some damage, we came through pretty well and our harvest will likely remain unchanged from earlier projections.”

Maurice Tougas, a grower from Northboro, Mass., said his farm saw no major damage.

Dawn Gates-Allen, a fourth generation cranberry grower in Cape Cod, Mass., said they prepared for the hurricane but the severe weather never really materialized. One of the major concerns she and other growers had was flooding in the reservoirs they use to flood their bogs for harvest. Most Cape Cod growers relieved water from those reserves and are hoping to get enough rain to refill them in time for harvest.

“Mostly, we didn’t have any damage,” she said. “Growers with coastal bogs did have some salt overspray and they sprayed and irrigated on Monday to get the salt off. The vines are fine though.”

According to the Connecticut State Department of Agriculture, there wasn’t any significant crop damage, but many people were still without power.

“In my conversations with growers, what I’m hearing is a loss in the range of 10 percent fruit dropped in orchards,” said Steven Reviczki, Connecticut State Commissioner of Agriculture. “There was some tree loss from wind, but few trees were a total loss. We’re still in the early stages of assessing the damage.”

Small fruit and vegetables may have been hit harder by the hurricane. The Connecticut River crested and there was significant flooding, Reviczki said. Any farms on the flood plain are most likely a total loss. Most small fruit and vegetables have already been harvested, but late raspberries were hit hard by the high winds.

There are significant power losses, which are hurting Connecticut farmers as they try to keep harvested fruits and vegetables cool. Another major concern is transportation, Reviczki said. The state had more than 1,000 roads closed due to storm damage.

“I may be echoing a lot of other people when I say that it could have been a lot worse,” he said.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact Derrek Sigler at 616887-9008 or by email at fgnnews@fruitgrowersnews.com.

(Photo by Jerome Frecon: Peach and other fruit growers caught in the path of Huricanne Irene will have to worry about damage from too much water on the root systems of the trees.)

By Derrek Sigler, assistant editor

Originally posted on Aug. 30, 2011





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