Arkansas fruit production survives a year of wild weather

Grape production down slightly, peach production up more than a third over 2014. Heavy rains diluted flavor, increased disease incidence in some crops.

With some variations in production amounts, Arkansas growers enjoyed a relatively positive crop cycle in 2015.

John Clark, University of Arkansas professor and fruit breeder, said relatively mild overall winter temperatures left most fruit production unharmed.

“Our winter damage wasn’t substantial,” Clark said. “However, one of the things I noticed in May, particularly on blackberries, was more cold damage than I had anticipated, which I believe occurred in November during an early cold snap, when the plants weren’t fully ready for winter. An important predictor of fruit quality is how well things ‘harden off’ in the fall -- which maybe things didn’t have the chance to do before a snap. But the blackberry crop was still quite good.”

Clark said when spring rolls around, Arkansas weather can’t be generalized across the state.

“You can have a frost in one place and nothing half a mile away. But in general, our spring was good. I heard some instances of frost damage during peach bloom in southern Arkansas.”

In August, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its annual grape and peach production forecast for the state. The report forecast Arkansas grape production at 1,400 tons, a 6 percent drop from 2014. Peach production, however, increased 38 percent in 2015 to 900 tons.

“Overall, it was a positive year, despite the sheer amount of rainfall, which was more than I had ever seen in early summer,” Clark said. “Our new primocane fruiting blackberry developments, which fruit late-summer into the fall, performed quite well this year. Many years when we have above-90-degree temperatures, it will really damage the flower buds and the fruit set on those plants. But we had a pretty good yield, which we don’t always.

“That reflected a reasonably moderate summer. Our most intense heat was from July 10-mid-August.”

Elena Garcia, Arkansas Extension fruit and nut specialist, said that an unusually wet spring and isolated flooding in the summer impacted the overall flavor of some fruit produce.

“Although rainfall is an important aspect of fruit production, excessive rainfall can dilute flavors, and we saw that happening with some production this year,” Garcia said.

Clark said excessive rainfall can also make pests and diseases more difficult to manage. “It’s impossible to spray while it’s raining, obviously. And rainfall before or after an application can mean a pesticide either washes off the plant or never grabs hold in the first place.

“The high rainfall did create a tremendous amount of bacterial spot disease on peaches. Bacterial spot is something we don’t control at the Fruit Experiment Station in Clarksville, because we’ve developed varieties resistant to it.”

Clark said several incidences of powdery mildew developed on grapes at the Fruit Experiment Station, which was likely also worsened due to weather.

Fore more information on Arkansas fruit production, contact your local Cooperative Extension agent or visit www.uaex.edu.

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