APRICOTS TO COME?: Back-to-back warm spells and cold snaps are putting apricot trees through their paces in southern Pennsylvania. Bloom-laden tree branches from the region were on sale at a Washington, D.C. farmer’s market as March got underway, with temperatures in the teens forecast for the middle of the month. “It’s an early spring, again, this year,” said James Schupp, director of the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center in Biglerville, near many of the growers who serve D.C. farmers markets. Persistence of the trend may force new crop configurations, shifts that could mean avoiding apricots. “They bloom earlier than anything else we grow,” Schupp said. “They may be more vulnerable. On the other side of the coin, as we get into warmer climates, we may be able to grow peaches farther north.” As a fruit producing state in a competitive global marketplace, such adjustments are under discussion. “But I’m not sure there is any slam-dunk miracle spray that’s going to change anything,” Schupp said. Growers have methods such as overhead irrigation to protect trees from cold damage, where the continuously freezing water on the tree helps keep the surface temperature from going below 32 degrees. But it only works within certain temperature parameters and is costly to deploy. Schupp said damage to the apricot crop is likely from the erratic weather, but the severity of the impact remains to be seen. Mark O’Neill, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau media and strategic communication director, said some damage to buds from cold weather can be beneficial, thinning the tree to allow better fruit development. He said that within a single county, one orchard’s production can be hit hard, while one in another area can come out fine. “We go through this every year,” O’Neill said.
© 2017 John A. Bray