There will be peaches.
Local peach orchards feared this year’s harsh and extended winter might have a devastating effect on their peach crop, but orchards south of Interstate 64 have weathered the cold temperatures.
“We are very fortunate to have peaches because anybody north of us has frozen out of peaches or have a drastically reduced crop,” Wayne Sirles, vice-president of Rendleman Orchards, said. “As far as I’m aware, there’s probably not any peaches at all north of I-64.”
The northern peach crop was not affected as much by the drastic temperatures of winter as it was by the unseasonably cool spring temperatures.
“We had certain times where the temperature was warming up and then it froze again,” Sonja Lallemand, University of Illinois, agriculture and natural resource educator, said. “That means buds start moving, opening up and then we go into a freeze.”
The extended winter will delay the peach harvest from a week to a month. Dale Bremer, owner of Bremer Orchards in Metropolis, said he had ripe peaches by June 6 last year, but this year’s harvest might not begin until July 6.
Rendleman Orchards is expecting a delayed harvest, as well.
“We should start with our early season peaches at the beginning of July, and things seem to be a little bit later this year, as with everything else due to the extended cold weather and late spring that we had,” Sirles said. “So, we’re looking at a week to 10 days later than usual.”
The damage to the northern peach crop is likely to have a beneficial effect on the Southern Illinois peach market.
Sirles hopes a greater demand for peaches will not only help Southern Illinois peach sales, but also give a boost to Southern Illinois tourism.
“I hope they’ll come down here and see there’s a lot of stuff to do down here,” Sirles said.
Larry Flamm, owner of Flamm Orchards, said increased demand could drive up the price of peaches.
“It may possibly raise the price a little bit, but not necessarily,” Flamm said. “It just depends on how many peaches there are in the rest of the country.”
Buying peaches from an orchard gives consumers a measure of confidence in what they are purchasing that they can’t get from buying a peach in a grocery store, Flamm said.
“They know exactly where they came from and what part of the country they came from,” Flamm said. “Southern Illinois is known for having good tasting peaches.”
Bremer said fruit growing is a difficult business in Southern Illinois. He has been tending to his Metropolis orchard for 35 years and claims he hasn’t made more than five cents an hour for his effort.
The demand for peaches is not the problem, but being able to sell them at a high enough price to recoup labor and production costs is, Bremer said.
“We have to have a certain price in order to try to pay the bills, and the general public cannot afford to pay that for a luxury item and peaches are a luxury,” Bremer said.