Fruit crop lagging after spring freeze in Bootheel region

Monday, July 2, 2007 | 1:59 p.m. CDT; updated 1:37 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

CAPE GIRARDEAU — Southeast Missouri farmers say this spring’s unusual cold snap has devastated the fruit crops that they would normally be taking to market this time of year.

“All our fruit was wiped out,” said Ellie Flamm who operates a family farm near Cobden.

Flamm set up shop at the Cape Girardeau Farmers Market over the weekend, but like many vendors, she offered potatoes, cauliflower and peppers instead of fruit.

The Southeast Missourian reported Monday that orchards have been hit hard in that region of the state, as reflected by the sparse offerings of peaches and apples at farmers’ markets.

“We’ve never had a year where all the fruit was gone,” said farmers market president Marilyn Peters, whose involvement with the market goes back 22 years.

Farmers in 114 Missouri counties were granted access to low-interest emergency loans Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The relief can’t come quickly enough for David Diebold, who would normally have plenty of peaches and apples for sale at his store in Benton. The early spring freeze wiped out nearly all of Diebold’s fruit, causing nearly $500,000 in lost revenue according to his estimate.

The story is similar just across the Mississippi River in southern Illinois.

“The southern part of the state was affected so bad there’s no peach crop and very, very few apples,” said Maurice Ogutu, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

Grapes were heavily affected by the freeze as well. But unlike apples and peaches, grapevines can bounce back by growing a second crop, said Jim Anderson, director of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board.

In April, Anderson estimated an 80 percent loss. Since then, those estimates have been revised downward, with some varieties experiencing a 60 percent to 70 percent loss, others only a 30 percent to 40 percent loss.

“We’re still not out of the woods yet,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he has never seen such a devastating freeze in all his 20 years with the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

The unusual weather caused a one-two punch in southeast Missouri. An unseasonable warm March caused fruit trees to flower, only to have buds nipped by below-freezing temperatures in April. In Cape Girardeau, the officially recorded low was 18 degrees April 8. On March 30 the high was 83.

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