Peach, Pecan Trees Suffer From Ice Storm in Arkansas

February 10, 2009

North Arkansas fruit producers are cleaning up and assessing damage from the recent ice storm, the second hit from the weather they’ve absorbed in three years.

In 2007, fruit crops in the state’s northwest were largely wiped out by a hard freeze in April. Peaches, grapes, berries and other crops were devastated.

This year’s ice storm sheared branches from peach and pecan trees, but grape vines and blueberry bushes fared well because they were still dormant and able to tolerate the temperatures.

Peach trees that were pruned escaped damage.

Leon Swihart told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette his peach trees had been pruned. But he also produces pecans on his 65 acres near Leachville in Mississippi County. The pecan trees took a beating.

“We have probably 500 pickup truck loads of firewood on the ground. … We don’t know how we’re going to get all this brush picked up,” Swihart said.

At Friend Orchard in Boone County, Rocky Friend said crews had been pruning peach trees for three months. But the work covered only half the 25,000 trees in his orchard.

“We had a lot of damage done in places where we hadn’t already pruned,” Friend said. “We’ve got places where we’ll lose 50 percent of this year’s crop.”

Friend Orchard lost its entire 2007 peach crop in the April freeze. That freeze followed unusually warm March temperatures, which spurred growth. The buds that popped out in the warm weather were killed.

Swihart said some of his pecan trees are total losses.

“But most of the trees have 25 (percent) to 75 percent of the limbs stripped off,” Swihart said. “(Nut) production will definitely be down for a year or two.”

Young fruit trees and older, pruned ones should survive an ice storm, said Roy Rom, professor emeritus of pomology, the science of fruit growing, at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Rom said the apple trees in his own 21/2-acre orchard had little damage because they are pruned annually to carry a heavy fruit load.

Ornamental shade trees sustained damage.

“We got hit pretty hard,” said Scott Hartwell of Al Williams & Son Nursery Inc. near Piggott. The business was begun by Hartwell’s great-grandfather. He produces ornamental and shade trees as well as flowering shrubs on about 300 acres in Clay County. The plants are sold wholesale.

Some of the trees take up to seven years to raise to market size, and it was the older ones that tended to sustain the worst ice damage. Hartwell said some trees were broken and others were bent.

He said some of the damaged trees were already tagged to dug, wrapped and shipped.

“We’re going to have to make some phone calls,” Hartwell said.

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,

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