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Bushels full of nothing

Friday, July 13, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:18 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Peach Tree Farms owner Bruce Arnett examines the first and only peach he has found on trees all year. A late frost that hit after buds came out destroyed his crop. His is among many peach farms struggling this year.

During a good harvest, Bruce Arnett, his wife, Judy, and their six children begin work at 4:30 a.m. to pick and sell hundreds of pounds of peaches.

Eager customers line up by 9 a.m., the doors open at 10, and peaches are picked until noon.

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“We run hard,” Arnett said. “We sell all retail and sell out every day.”

This year, however, Judy is teaching summer school, and Bruce stays busy pruning the trees, feeding fish in the pond and refilling a small pool for the kids.

That’s because Missouri suffered a total loss of its peach crop this year, said Eileen Nichols, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri Farmers’ Market Association.

Farmers in southern regions were affected more because two weeks of warmth preceding a freeze allowed the trees to bud. Nichols said that other Missouri farmers have had two or three poor years but never a total crop loss.

“Webb City Farmers’ Market is a producer-only market, meaning we only allow farmers to sell what they grow,” Nichols said. “However, this year this rule was exempt for the first time in history for peaches.”

Seven orchards in southwest Missouri sent a grower to California, and peaches are shipped once a week from California farms to Monet for retail sales, she said.

Scott Beggs, president of the Missouri Peach Merchandising Council, said his family has been in the business since 1923. “This is the first time we have seen a total loss,” he said.

Beggs expects the peach crop to recover next year.

A portion of this report first aired Thursday during “News At 10” on KMIZ/Channel 17 ABC, Columbia.


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