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Stephen Talley examines peaches at Reeves Peach Farm on Monday. Weekend freezes destroyed the farm's entire peach crop.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Stephen Talley examines peaches at Reeves Peach Farm on Monday. Weekend freezes destroyed the farm's entire peach crop.

Easter freeze kills area fruit crop
Agent calls it 'a regional disaster'; only 'a few strawberries' survive

By Deangelo McDaniel
and Seth Burkett 340-2469

The arctic blast that came through the Tennessee Valley over the weekend left a trail of damage that will cost area growers and the local economy millions of dollars.

County extension offices said the fruit crop loss is unprecedented for the area and may be as high as $4 million.

"There's no beating around the bush, it's a total loss," regional extension agent Doug Chapman said about the 2007 Tennessee Valley fruit crop.

Chapman is the commercial horticulturist for 10 North Alabama counties including Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone.

"This is a regional disaster," he said. "I've never seen anything like this. There is nothing left, except for a few strawberries. But, there are no fruit trees."

Two successive mornings of below-freezing temperatures made it virtually impossible for area fruit growers to do anything but hope for the best, Morgan County extension agent Mike Reeves said.

As temperatures climbed above freezing Monday morning, the extent of the damage was evident.

"There will not be much of a fruit crop from Birmingham north," Reeves said. "The peaches, apples, blueberries and pecans are hurt."

Reeves said the biggest problem is that fruit trees, because of the unusually warm weather, had advanced like it was the first of May.

'Never to apple trees'

"I've seen this kind of damage to peaches before, but never to apple trees," he said.

Sunday morning, the temperature dropped to 23, shattering the old record of 32 set in 1939. The temperature dipped to 27 Saturday morning, breaking the record of 31 set in 1950.

Pryor Field on Sunday morning recorded its lowest temperature ever in the month of April, making Decatur one of the coldest places in the state that night, according to the National Weather Service in Huntsville.

Although area growers had advance warning of the cold weather, there was little they could do to prepare for it.

At Isom's Orchard in Athens, workers spent Friday night and Saturday morning using an overhead sprinkler to coat peaches with ice.

Their efforts didn't work at the 65-acre peach farm.

Wes Isom said the cold killed his entire peach and apple crops.

Isom said he spoke with some older farmers Monday who told him the last time a freeze completely killed apples was in 1955, before his lifetime and before Isom's Orchard began growing fruit.

Fruit makes up about 75 percent of Isom's business, meaning he'll have to work harder at growing other crops.

"Besides peaches and apples, we do grow melons and vegetable crops such as squash and zucchini and beans, so we will be open. We will have something to sell, we just won't have any peaches or apples," he said.

Isom said the lost crop will allow him to focus labor elsewhere, but it will be hard to make up the difference.

"Most people can't understand," Isom said. "If they work in a factory, they have a guaranteed income and get a paycheck every week. We do have a pretty good income, but it takes most of that income to turn it around and farm again the next year."

"We're going to dig in and do the best we can," he said.

Reeves Peach Farm on Alabama 36 between Hartselle and Somerville also lost its entire peach crop.

"I've seen a bunch of cold freezes, but this one is unprecedented," Reeves said.

Reeves said strawberry growers may have been able to salvage their crop if they used row covers.

"Even with the covers, there may be some damage, but they should have a decent (strawberry) crop," he said.

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