SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — “Peaches don’t like the cold.”
That’s what John Steere, who owns Steere Orchards with his father Jim Steere, had to say when asked whether his peach crops survived last weekend’s frigid temperatures.
John Steere said the extreme cold can be deadly for peach trees, adding that temperatures in Smithfield dropped to -11 degrees over the weekend.
“Traditionally, -15 degrees will take out a whole crop,” John Steere explained. “We’re hoping -11 degrees wasn’t close enough.”
“There’s definitely some damage to the peach buds out here,” he added.
Steere Orchard, which describes itself as the largest orchard in Rhode Island, is home to hundreds of peach trees.
John Steere believes the unseasonably warm weather is partially to blame — January was the third warmest on record in Rhode Island.
“[The peach buds] hadn’t quite hardened off for the winter yet,” John Steere explained. “It’s been up and down. They need around 30 days of freezing to be acclimated to the winter.”
“Talking to my dad, in his 45 years of growing peaches, he had never lost a crop until 2016,” he added.
It was hard to find a single peach in the Northeast that summer.
The situation back then was similar. The mild winter in early February brought many peach trees to near bloom just days before temperatures of -10 to -20 moved in on Valentines Day that year.
The peach season is short, according to John Steere, who said peaches are typically harvested in July and August.
The loss of their entire peach crop seven years ago hurt Steere Orchard, which is why John Steere’s keeping his fingers crossed for this year.
“I think there’s still some live ones out there,” he said. “If you open up the peach bud and slice it diagonally, it’ll be green all the way through … that means it’s still alive. If you see a little bit of brown or black inside, that means it’s probably dead.”
Losing some of the peach buds can be a blessing, according to John Steere.
He said workers typically thin the branches so energy and nutrients in the tree can be concentrated to make larger peaches.
John Steere said their peach crops are usually safe from temperatures just below 0°F, but Saturday’s temperatures were extreme.
“We’re right in the area where we can consistently grow peaches, but we may lose [our crop] once every 40 years or so,” he said. “But hopefully not twice in 10 years.”
About 12 miles south of Greenville, in western Cranston, Pippin Orchards also lost their entire peach crop in 2016. Joe Polseno, owner of Pippin Orchard, told 12 News that he does not think he had any damage to his peach crop this year.
Jon Clements, a fruit tree specialist at University of Massachusetts Amherst, tells 12 News that temperatures -10°F are “bad news” for peach crops.
That’s why he doesn’t expect there to be many successful peach crops this year in Massachusetts and areas north of the Bay State, where temperatures ranged from -14 to -16 degrees Saturday morning.
Clements said -10 degrees is the threshold where peach crops will begin to suffer.
When it comes to Steere Orchard, John Steere said he won’t know for sure the extent of the damage until the trees start to bloom in the spring.
“Will it take out the whole crop? I don’t know,” he said.
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