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Spring Frost Damages Pa. Fruit

July 4, 2002

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) _ Kerrick McMillen was looking forward to his first year owning Highlander Orchard until a hard freeze virtually destroyed his crop.

While farmers have always had to cope with the uncertainty of the weather, this year has been particularly troublesome.

A generally warm winter with unpredictable cold spells contributed to a 20 percent reduction in the state’s maple syrup harvest. Then came hard freezes in March and May that had a devastating effect on everything from fruits to Christmas trees.

``We have 8,000 apple trees, and we’re not going to have anything this year _ maybe a couple hundred bushels for family and friends, but nothing we can sell,″ said McMillen, who farms 55 acres near Ringgold in Jefferson County. ``And that’s only if they get through the bugs, because we quit spraying. After we lost the whole crop, there was no sense in spending money spraying.″

From grape farmers in Erie, where as much as 75 percent of the crop might be lost, to the orchards of northeastern Pennsylvania, fruit production has been devastated in much of the northern part of the state.

``We’re pretty well wiped out, especially the fruit,″ said Ed Pruss, Penn State extension agent for Wayne County in far northeastern Pennsylvania. ``There are virtually no apples ... the same with pears and cherries, and the same with peaches.″

Those losses might not show in statewide crop reports. The Pennsylvania Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 79 percent of the state’s peach crop and 69 percent of the apple crop were in good or excellent condition. Each crop showed 5 percent or less as very poor.

That’s because so much of the crop is grown in Adams County, where it didn’t get as cold or stay cold as long.

``There was some bud damage, but there was enough buds that survived that it just requires less thinning,″ said John Lott, president of Aspers-based Bear Mountain Orchards. ``It looks like a very good crop coming.″

In central Pennsylvania, the losses were substantial. Chris Harner, of Harner Farms in State College, said most of his apple crop is gone. Lloyd Brubaker, of Brubaker Orchard in Winfield, said he lost about half of his apple and tart cherry crops and virtually all of his apricots, plums and sweet cherries.

``It’s going to be one of the worst years we had,″ Brubaker said.

Even Christmas trees, hardy enough to survive Pennsylvania winters, were damaged by the frost because it came when the new growth was just beginning.

``Christmas trees really got it,″ Harner said. ``If you look at some of the trees now, especially the Douglas fir, the whole outside of the tree is completely brown.″

Jessica Chittenden, spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, said orchards have seen sporadic damage across much of the state.

``I think the only way to explain that is elevation,″ Chittenden said. ``We have farms that are right next to each other where one farm got hit severely with frost, the other farm didn’t get touched at all.″

Although the damage has been extensive, some area crops are doing well.

``Vegetables, it’s a different story,″ Pruss said. ``There were only a few fields that were planted at that particular point, so there was very little damage.″

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On the Net: http://www.nass.usda.gov/pa

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DENVER (AP) _ Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman has opened more than one million acres of idle Colorado cropland to emergency harvesting for livestock feed because of severe drought conditions.

``This emergency haying will provide forage for livestock and help producers in these areas most severely impacted by these drought conditions,″ Veneman said.

A conservation reserve program pays the nation’s farmers to grow native grasses on the most drought and erosion prone cropland.

Veneman’s move Tuesday allows farmers in 30 Colorado counties, mostly on the eastern plains, to harvest the wild grasses to help feed livestock and horses.

Weather forecasters have said 2002 is the driest year since weather conditions were first recorded in 1890.

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On the Net:

http://www.usda.gov

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