By WHITNEY PIPKIN
(Aug. 8, 2017) Well-timed rain followed by plenty of sunshine have been a boon for the region’s peach crop, which farmers say is experiencing its best summer in years.
Many feared that wouldn’t be the case when the earliest varieties began blooming during a warm spell in February, which impacted apricot and plum harvests. But, for peaches, “March was good to us,” said John Marker who has been growing the signature stone fruit at Marker-Miller Orchards in Winchester, Va., for most of his 70 years.
In the end, “it’s a great year for peaches,” said Marker. “In fact, it’s maybe a greater year for the consumer than it is for the farmer because it’s been dry. They may not be quite as big, but they’re very sweet.”
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reports that the state’s peach trees, concentrated in central, northern and southwestern Virginia, benefitted from steady rain in the spring.
Then, drier conditions in June and July provided near-perfect conditions for the fruits’ sugars to develop into flavorful peaches.
The state’s 244 peach farms produce 6,500 peaches valued at almost $6 million, according to the latest USDA data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. (The five-year census will be updated after the 2017 growing season.)
With more than a dozen varieties grown in the region, locals should be able to find peaches for sale at farm stands and markets through early September.
Many you-pick farms host peach-themed festivals during the month of August, and visitors should be able to find tree-ripened stone fruit to purchase throughout the summer.
Peaches grown in Maryland and Pennsylvania also are having a good year so far, though some isolated storms have damaged individual farms.
Aubrey King of Twin Springs Fruit Farm in Adams County, Pa., who sells a wide variety of peaches at several Northern Virginia farmers markets, echoed the sentiment that it’s been a good year, despite “the vagaries of nature.”
“Most growers in our area only grow tree fruit; that is what the ground’s most valuable use is,” King said. “From our perspective, (this year’s) weather has been some of the best in years for fruit growing.”
Unpredictable weather can make for boom-and-bust years, particularly in peach farming.
An ill-timed cold snap, for example, caused several farms to lose some of their stone fruit harvest last year.
As a fourth-generation farmer, Marker knows that all too well.
“You’ve got to realize that you may not have a crop every year,” he said. “It doesn’t take a farmer long to realize that you’re not in charge.”
Marker’s farm is one of several offering a few acres of you-pick peaches and a festival in August.
This year, there’s plenty to celebrate.