Vibrant pink flowers have blossomed on peach trees in orchards across the commonwealth. But this time last year was a different story.
A cold snap of minus 10-degree weather on Valentine's Day weekend in 2016 left peach trees barren, costing farmers thousands of dollars and leaving many Massachusetts residents without native stone fruit to sink their teeth into.
"This time in 2016 I saw six peach flowers in my orchard in total on about five or six acres," said Mike Smolak, owner of Smolak Farms in North Andover. "This year the trees are covered in flowers. The good news is we didn't have a freeze like last year. We should have a very, very good crop this year."
Last year's experience was traumatizing for many farmers.
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For Smolak Farms, last year's loss was between $50,000 and $60,000. Government insurance programs helped them with about only 20 percent of their loss.
"It's not just the loss of the crop, it's the loss of other things they come to buy," Smolak said. "We've got peach cobblers, peach pies, muffins."
David Dumaresq, of Farmer Dave's, operates Tewksbury's East Street Farm, Dracut's Brox Farm and Westford's Hill Orchard, where a variety of apples, pears and stone fruit grow. About three acres are stone fruit. In talking to other New England stone fruit growers, Dumaresq said they had never had a disaster where they had 100 percent of the crop wiped out.
Fortunately, Dumaresq has a diversified group of crops growing and did not primarily rely on stone fruit, but drought conditions also affected Farmer Dave's. With the stone fruit trees not bearing any fruit, they required less watering. But a lot of money was invested in irrigation for other crops on the other parcels operated by Farmer Dave's. He said he spent more time and money on irrigating than he ever had before. Limited water also forced them to let go of less valuable crops, like corn and beans.
To partially compensate for the loss of stone fruit, Dumaresq said they focused on other fruits for its Community Supported Agriculture share, which has about 1,000 members.
"Because I knew in March, and definitely by April, that we weren't going to have that stone fruit for the CSA share, I put in extra strawberries, extra watermelons and extra cantaloupe to kind of make up the difference."
The good harvests and sales at the Dracut and Tewksbury farms still did not make up for the plummet of sales at Hill Orchard last year.
"My income was definitely reduced last year as a result of the combination of the lack of stone fruit and then the drought on top of it," Dumaresq said. "And with the drought, we saved crops. But it came at an expense -- a very big expense."
At Carlson Orchards in Harvard, co-owner Frank Carlson said they focus on selling fresh fruit. He said he doesn't like to think about the loss they had last year.
"We had a very poor crop of apples last year and we didn't pick a peach off of 25 acres," Carlson said. "We had to borrow a lot of money to grow this year's crop because we just had no carry over."
But this year he said they've got beautiful blossoms on the peach trees and buds on the apple trees. Carlson said they are hoping for a good crop, even though the rain is not so helpful for the self-pollinating peach flowers. However, they will put 100 bee hives out into the orchards, which will remain there for a week.
Ann Harris, owner of Autumn Hill Orchards in Groton, was also hit hard financially last year.
"The peaches, they provide some good summer revenue and they get us off to an early start in terms of our farmers market," Harris said. "I couldn't start the farmers market until late August, early September and usually I'm out there in July."
She is hoping for a good crop, but said she always worries until it is time to harvest.
Some farmers, like Donald Siver, of the family run George Hill Orchards in Lancaster, said two weeks when the pollination sets, he will have a better idea of how the crop will do this year.
"I would have to say that currently I am 100 percent better than last year as I had nothing to pollinate, all the buds were killed during the winter so we had no blossoms," Siver said in an email. "Currently we have blossoms and a fighting chance," adding that the poor pollinating weather could have an adverse outcome.
But Dumaresq pointed out that upside to last year's unfortunate cold snap is that the trees had a year to rest instead of using energy to produce fruit.
"The trees are kind of stronger as a result, going into this season," he said. "Sometimes you get with fruit trees, if you have a very heavy crop one year, the next year might tend to be a light crop because it's the response of the tree like, 'I'm tired. I can't do it again.' This year, with not having a crop last year, they're just loaded with blossoms."
Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.