Monday, January 08, 2007

Warmth a worry for fruit growers +
By Joan KernLancaster New Era
Published: Jan 06, 2007 11:27 AM EST
LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - It may feel like spring, but we aren’t about to send our winter coats back to storage.
Fruit trees, on the other hand, don’t have coats to put on and take off.Pictures of flowering cherry trees — due to that oxymoron in these parts: a warm winter — have been in the media lately.But orchard owners in Lancaster County seem to be staying calm so far.“We’re concerned,” said Ken Kauffman, owner of Kauffman Fruit Trees in Bird-in-Hand, “but there’s not a blessed thing we can do about it.”Richard Haas, former owner of Cherry Hill Orchards in Pequea, said he hasn’t “seen any evidence of buds pushing.”Nor has he had time to talk to other fruit growers about weather concerns.“I just haven’t given it a whole lot of consideration,” he said. “I have other irons in the fire.”At Barr’s fruit and vegetable stand at Lancaster’s Central Market, employee Frank Pennell said he is definitely concerned.“It’s a worry,” he said. “Peaches and apples are a big percent of our yearly income.”Everyone said the worst case scenario is a sudden drop in temperature, resulting in crop failure.Wild temperature swings hurt orchards because trees may not have hardened enough to weather the colder conditions.“If the temperature drops gradually, we’ll be fine,” Ruth Thomas said at her market stand this morning.Thomas said she has about nine apple trees and three pear trees on her farm in Lititz but hasn’t checked on them lately, although she has noticed that her rose bushes are pushing buds “just a little.”“I don’t think it’s a danger yet,” she said. “We had a couple of nights of heavy frost this week.”But what if temperatures never drop significantly? What if the El Nino weather continues right into spring?“Oh, that’s not going to happen,” Thomas said. “It will change tonight.”And everyone else who commented echoed her. They all believe winter will come, sooner or later.Haas, whose son owns Cherry Hill Orchard — 150 acres of fruit trees with about 40 of peaches, 40 of apples and the rest in cherries, apricots and plums — said a late spring would be to his advantage.He explained that the varieties of fruit trees grown in the area need about certain period of cold weather to set bud.“Our trees don’t normally bloom until the 15th of April,” he said. “We have a lot of time to get our (cold) days in.”Haas plans to attend the Mid-Atlantic Horticultural Show in Hershey at the end of the month.“I’m sure (the warm weather) will be a topic there,” he said.Kauffman works in his 90-acre orchard, primarily of apple and peach trees, all year long, weather permitting.Right now, he’s pruning.“It’s very nice,” he said of the warm weather, “too nice. It gets old. I don’t talk about it a lot.”The head of the family business, founded in 1915, said he has definitely seen a change in the color of bark, which means sap is starting to flow,.“It reminds me of March,” he said.

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