Area peach orchards expect good crop despite winter ice storm

Monday, June 29, 2009 ~ Updated 10:37 AM

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Despite bearing two inches of ice atop their branches in January, the trees in Mike Leible's peach orchard have bounced back, and the peach harvest will begin any day now.

Leible, co-owner of Dogwood Peach Orchard, said recently he is fielding questions from local residents about whether or not he would have peaches this summer after last winter's ice storm.

"They have no clue about what exactly happened to the orchard. I probably didn't lose but half a dozen trees, and those split like a banana," Leible said of the inquirers.

Other trees in the orchard just lost limbs, Leible said. Fortunately, the trees on his eight-acre orchard were in the dormant stage when the ice storm hit, he said of his orchard located off Interstate 57 north in Mississippi County.

"The peach trees are already pruned to bear a load, and they have an advantage over other trees because we've made them to do so," Leible said.

What's caused confusion, Leible said, was the cold snap of April 2007 which wiped out the peach crop throughout Southeast Missouri. The fruit, which was in full bloom then, couldn't tolerate the below-freezing temperatures, which lasted for several nights.

David Diebold, owner of Diebold's Orchard in Benton, said he hasn't had anyone ask whether or not he would have a peach crop this year.

"We didn't have it as bad up here (in northern Scott County). Twenty or 30 miles can make a difference," Diebold said.

Diebold said his peach trees came through with minimal damage.

"There was more breakage from the heavy crop we had last year than from the ice storm this year," Diebold said. "The trees are engineered to handle a fruit load and ice is another thing,"

The bottom line is there will be peaches this year, the growers said.

"The ice storm didn't ruin the crop. We ought to have a good crop and the crop looks good right now," Leible said.

However recent cold, wet and rainy weather slowed down the ripening process of the peaches, Leible noted.

"In the past, I'd be picking peaches right now, and this (current) heat is catching them up quickly," Leible said.

Diebold agreed.

"The crop is running a little bit later, and the quality looks good. It's gonna be mid-July before things pick up with them," Diebold said.

Once Leible's 17 varieties of peaches begin ripening, his harvest lasts about eight weeks total.

"Once we get started picking, the orchard will be open (to sell peaches), and we have to start checking the trees," Leible said. "It's an everyday thing."

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