Weatherford Star-Telegram

For North Texas peach growers, ‘weather is big, big, big’

Joyce Ruessler, left, and Lorraine Braden pick out peaches from Exxon Pantaleon of Doak's Orchard of Bowie on Saturday morning at the Cowtown Farmers Market in Fort Worth.
Joyce Ruessler, left, and Lorraine Braden pick out peaches from Exxon Pantaleon of Doak's Orchard of Bowie on Saturday morning at the Cowtown Farmers Market in Fort Worth. Special to the Star-Telegram

Just outside the town of Bowie, tomatoes, squash and zucchini are blossoming at J&L Family Farm in Montague County.

Only one summer staple is missing: peaches.

Ferocious hail and a whipping wind wiped out the farm’s entire crop, ripping the flesh off the fruit of some 300 trees.

“I had never seen anything quite like this,” said farmer Joe Rodrigs, who sells his produce every week at Cowtown Farmers Market in Fort Worth. “We have lost peaches before, but you could always salvage a few. This was a complete loss.”

For some farmers, especially those in hard-hit Montague County, spring storms with heavy rain and hail devastated peach crops. Other growers in North Texas, including some in Parker County, fared better this summer.

We have lost peaches before, but you could always salvage a few.

Joe Rodrigs, J&L Family Farm in Montague County

The 32nd annual Parker County Peach Festival is Saturday, and organizers promise lots of “plump and juicy” peaches, said Tammy Gazzola, president of the Weatherford Chamber of Commerce.

From 35,000 to 40,000 people are expected at the festival, which features homemade peach cobbler, peach ice cream, peach julep, peach smoothies and more.

‘Weather is big, big, big’

The rain — minus the hail — gave a boost to peaches at Hutton Peach Farm in Parker County, which grows about 40 acres of peach trees. A few times, mud prevented tractors from entering the fields, so farmers were forced to spray on foot for fungus and insects, a slower process, owner Gary Hutton said.

But the well-timed rainfall also meant Hutton did not need to irrigate crops, saving time and money. The farm’s fruit stand opened Memorial Day weekend, about 10 days earlier than usual.

“Rain helped speed things up a bit,” he said. “It’s a great year for peaches.”

Not so for B&G Gardens in Poolville, a small town in Parker County. Co-owner Ben Walker estimated that the farm lost about 60 percent of its peach crop to worms because near-constant rain prevented the growers from spraying the 240 trees.

Fortunately, Walker said, the farm’s tomatoes did not meet the same fate, and he expects to have plenty for sale at Cowtown Farmers Market in coming weeks.

In Cooper, Fairfield Farms, whose peaches are sold at Central Market in Fort Worth and Southlake, had a strong year. The farm added a variety developed by a breeder at Texas A&M University that requires fewer chill hours, farm manager Brady Johnson said.

Rain helped speed things up a bit. It’s a great year for peaches.

Gary Hutton, Hutton Peach Farm in Parker County

When a late freeze blew through in the spring, Fairfield used frost protection wind machines, which circulate hot air, to save the crop.

“Weather is big, big, big,” Johnson said. “For peaches, you need some cold, some rain, no hail. It’s one thing after the other.”

‘Just the life of the farmer’

Back in Montague County, Texas AgriLife Extension Agent Justin Hansard estimated that hail destroyed roughly half of the county’s peach crop.

John Doak, who owns Doak Orchards in Montague County, lost about one-third of his peach crop to hail, although he can sell some of it as “seconds,” with visible imperfections like bumps and bruises.

“Growing peaches takes skill,” said Doak, who has been at it for nearly 40 years. “After all these years, I’m still learning.”

Rodrigs, whose family is already preparing the trees for next year’s crop, said some longtime customers have been disappointed he did not have peaches this summer.

“That’s just the life of the farmer,” he said. “But the one thing the farmer always has is hope.”

Staff writer Lance Winter contributed to this report.

Sarah Bahari: 817-390-7056, @sarahbfw

GROWER JOHN DOAK OF MONTAGUE COUNTY TALKS PEACHES IN 2015:

Grower John Doak sells his peaches at a farmers market in west Fort Worth. His orchard is one of the few remaining in Montague county.

Parker County Peach Festival

When: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Historic Downtown Weatherford

Admission: $5 per person, kids 12 and under are admitted free

Details: parkercountypeachfestival.org, facebook.com/parkercountypeachfestival

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