Foodstuffs: For New England, It's Going to Be a Year Without Local Peaches

Jun 30, 2016

Peach lovers are in for a bit of disappointment this summer, with New Hampshire’s crop of the fuzzy fruit almost entirely wiped out. In this week's installment of Foodstuffs, we'll find out what's behind the shortage.

At Carter Hill Orchard in Concord, visitors this time of year typically find acres and acres of apples, peaches, and other tree fruits growing among the rolling hills.

This year, though, it’s a different story for the farm’s peaches. Carter Hill’s Todd Larocque and I walked through a row of peach trees where he showed me this summer’s quandary: dead buds instead of young fruit.

Todd Larocque points out a branch with dead buds on it.
Credit Faith Meixell / NHPR

"Here’s a dead branch that would have been a bud," he said. "Take it off and it’s just brown inside, all nothing. If it was alive, it would be green, and it would have bloomed in May. But when you go through them, all you can find is it’s all turned to dust, all brown."

Larocque has been watching peaches grow on his family’s farm for all of his forty-two years, and he's never seen a season this bad before, "I don’t remember ever having a complete loss. We’ve had small crops, but nothing that’s completely wiped out like this. This is six acres with not one bud and not one peach on it."

And Larocque isn’t alone - just try calling Union Lake Peach Orchard in Barrington.

This is the message on their answering machine: "We will be closed all season, we have no fruit to sell this year. Due to the extremely cold winter and the extreme temperature fluctuations in march, it killed all the peaches in the state of New Hampshire and most of New England and up and down the East coast of the United States."

The extent of the damage is due to an unusual winter. Mild weather in January and February lulled the trees into budding too soon, only to be killed by a cold snap on Valentine’s Day.

"Once we go below ten degrees, there’s a greater chance of losing fruit blossoms due to the cold temperatures," UNH Cooperative Extension’s George Hamilton explains. "And with warm weather prior to that, it sets them up even more so, and the wind caused more drying out of the tissue which also would have caused more problems."

New Hampshire typically has about a hundred thirty acres of peaches ripening during the fruit’s peak season in late July and August. The soil in many areas is well-suited to peaches, and hardier varieties grow well, even this far north. But the fruit is delicate, and New Hampshire is on border for how far north they can grow.

Experts estimate that about ninety percent of peach buds from the Hudson Valley east and north through New England died in this year’s freeze.

And so while the trees themselves will survive, and will likely bear fruit next season, you won't see any local peaches at the farm stand this year.

"I’m sure we’ll have a lot of disappointed customers," Larocque said, "because we do have a loyal following that like their peaches. But unfortunately you can’t even find any to get, anywhere. I don’t think you’ll see any around this year."

For now, he’s pinning his hopes on apple season.