Tonawanda News — Record-setting rains in June were a mixed blessing for local growers.
At this point in the season, a surplus of rain is feeding potential late summer/early autumn bumper crops of apricots, plums, pears and apples, growers around Niagara County said last week.
However, heavy rain in late June was a curse for inland sweet cherry growers. An inch or more hit just when early varieties were ready for picking in Gasport and Lockport — devastating them.
New Royal Farms and the Schwab farm, both in Gasport, reported complete losses of their first maturing varieties.
Sweet cherries are a “volatile” crop, grower Kent Schwab said. The little, round fruit is like a sponge; and when it soaks up too much water, its skin splits. Such damaged fruit doesn’t store well, as rot starts to set in quickly.
The second half of New Royal Farms’ sweet cherry crop, a later-ripening variety, will be ready for picking this coming week. These are “still 90 percent clean and looking good — if there’s no more rain,” Buhr said.
Strawberries, a June-July crop, fared better, albeit for a shortened season. Grower Dave Coulter, of Coulter Farms in Cambria, said his crop was nearly spent by July 1 because rain on the ripe berries caused them to overripen and spoil. Were the air cooler, or the ground drier, they would have lasted longer, he said.
With nobody visiting in lousy weather, there’s a lot of spoilage in Coulter’s u-pick fields, he added.
It’s the second year in a row farmers have had to deal with extreme weather. Above normal temperatures in early spring 2012 brought fruit trees into bloom ahead of schedule, then a cold snap swept in and cut fruit development. Another record dry summer followed.
“Weather extremes are a challenge,” grower Bob Blackman, of Blackman Homestead Farms, Cambria, said. “Last year we were begging for water. This year the crop is there, but so’s the moisture. (Trees and plants) like moisture, but they don’t like to drown.”