A peach of a crop expected in Virginia this year

Farmer Roy Alther checks out a tree that’s almost ready for picking at Roy’s Orchard and Fruit Farm in Sperryville. Staff Photo/Jan Clatterbuck.

From staff and contributed reports
After a mid-June survey of major peach growers around the state, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has high expectations for a very good peach crop this year. From Cana to Winchester and from Charlottesville to Rappahannock, growers say the peach harvest is looking promising.

“All the growers that I know say it’s looking good this year,” said Roy Alther, who with wife Janet runs Roy’s Orchard, just off U.S. 211 at Old Hollow Road, and who grows peaches, apples, cherries and plums.

“I know a few who were hit by some hail, but for the most part the peaches and apples are looking heavy this year,” Alther said this week. “And the plums are looking very heavy. We are now growing about seven varieties of plum.”

Early rain in the spring boosted growth and this year’s peaches are good sized, a VDACS report said this week. Most growers did not lose fruit due to late frost, and so far the state has seen very little damaging summer lightning, wind or hail. The recent hot weather helped the peaches increase their sugar levels, yielding an exceptionally sweet product.

“This has been a strange year for weather,” said Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS commissioner, “and frankly, we didn’t know what to expect. But so far, it’s been a great year for peaches. With good rains followed by heat, and with no major natural disasters, Virginia growers have been able to produce a crop of large, sweet peaches with good color and great taste this year.”

In Sperryville, Alther said the most troublesome orchard crop this year was cherries, the spring fruit suffering from several late frosts.
“They’re all picked now, and we still have some,” said Alther, whose on-farm market also sells produce grown at the farm and several nearby farms, as well as the locally popular milk, ice cream and other dairy products from Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, Pa.

VDACS reported this year’s peach harvest should be about a week earlier than normal, with some light picking already taking place. The peak of the season should run from mid-July to Labor Day. All areas will have yellow flesh-peaches, white peaches and donut varieties, although central Virginia will have more of the special varieties than southwestern or northern Virginia.

Official statistics on acreage are not available, but according to VDACS’s telephone poll of growers, the state has approximately 2,000 acres of commercial peaches this year. This does not include the pick-your-own farms that sell directly to the public. Consumers will find farmers’ markets, pick-your-own farms and other outlets for Virginia peaches at www.virginiagrown.com.

On the website, consumers can search by location, zip code, type of venue or product. VDACS urges consumers to call ahead to their favorite farm or market for ripening and picking dates and to ask for Virginia peaches wherever they shop.

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