Though fruit crops throughout the state have been affected by this season’s unusually warm, dry weather, there still will be fruit, so consumers should visit their local farmers markets, according to Purdue University Extension tree fruit specialist Peter Hirst.
“The quality of the fruit is good,” he said. “Dry weather is actually good for tree fruits. The sugar is more concentrated, so they’re sweeter.”
However, there will be less of many fruits this year in the Hoosier state because they budded out early and were hit with freezes in April and May, when they were at a sensitive stage.
“We were early because it was a really warm February and March, and plants budded out,” explained Bruce Bordelon, a Purdue Extension specialist in small fruits.
When April and May weather was closer to normal, he said, a series of freezes damaged fruit crops. He said the entire state was affected.
“Damage is pretty widespread across the region,” he said. “Growers all suffered damage somewhere somehow.”
But, he said, that damage was spotty. According to Bordelon, some growers lost an entire apple or peach crop while others were spared.
“The peach crop is down from previous years because of the freeze,” Hirst said. “For some growers it’s been an extremely difficult year. Other growers have had a wonderful year.”
The variability, he explained, lies in the topography of the orchard. Trees planted on high spots fared better than those on low-lying ground because cold air tends to drop and accumulate in low areas. In high areas, or on slopes, it moves out faster, so there’s less damage.
“Apples are pretty much in the same boat as peaches,” Hirst added.
Pete Slowik, who owns Pete’s Peaches, raises stone fruits and asparagus near Plainville. The business currently is selling peaches, he said, and will have them for about another week before there’s a break until the next variety ripens.
“We did suffer some damage on the April 11 freeze,” he said, estimating about 50 percent of his crop was damaged. “Even today there are still frozen peaches on the tree that haven’t fallen off yet. They’re probably the size of the last joint on your finger.
“We’ve got about half a crop. We’re really fortunate to have what we do have. Anywhere the ground was low or flat there’s basically no fruit. It all froze. Anywhere you had elevation or slope where cold air could get out of there, we have a full crop.”
Hail damage after the freeze dinged up about 10 percent of the peach crop, Slowik added. He said the peaches were small at the time, and leaves deflected some of the hail, so the damage wasn’t too extensive.
The cherry crop was not so fortunate.
“All the sweet cherries froze,” he said. “They froze right on the tree and then fell off.”
Slowik said the asparagus crop froze as well, but it came back better than ever and they were able to pick “a fair amount of pounds.”
The current dry weather affects the fruit in several different ways, according to Slowik.
“We have no subsoil moisture, so as fruit tries to swell out, it hurts the size,” he explained.
It also speeds up the ripening process because the trees want to shed the fruit, he said.
“We’re approaching the bud initiation period for next year,” Slowik continued. “The peaches set buds in July for the next year. It’s a critical period because if it’s too dry it could prevent bud initiation.
“We welcome those midsummer rains whenever we can get them.”
Weather damage has been sporadic in small fruits as well.
“Grapes are kind of a bright spot,” Bordelon said. “All shoots that were out were killed, but they still have fruitful buds. Grapes have the capacity to be fairly productive. Growers pruned light so they would have more secondary buds.
“Blueberries are a little more cold tolerant, but not as much as we got.”
One blueberry grower, he said, ran overhead irrigation on 16 nights and saved a 20-acre planting, but he invested a lot in diesel and water costs. Overall, Bordelon said, the Indiana blueberry crop was significantly reduced this year.
“Bramble growers have a good crop,” he said.
Daviess County Ag and Natural Resources Extension Educator Scott Monroe said the local melon crop is largely irrigated, so he hasn’t seen any drought problems there.
“Most vegetable crops I’ve seen are irrigated,” he said. “That gives us an edge.
“A lot of crops had a chance to get started early and get an established root system. That helps offset the potential for damage.”
So far, temperatures haven’t been excessive, but Monroe said if it does become extremely hot, as expected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there will be a reduction in crop yield potential.
He advises irrigating as much as prudent and recommends 1 inch to 1.25 inch per week. He said home gardeners can use a sprinkler and rain gauge to monitor their water application.