Weather Week: Peaches in Maine?

(NECN: Amy Sinclair) - Many of us associate peach trees with long hot summers and mild winters.

That's why Georgia is known as "The Peach Tree State."

But changes in weather patterns have encouraged some New England farmers to experiment with crops that were once considered too tender.

There are more than a dozen varieties of apples growing at Kelly Orchards in Acton, Maine.

But now the bees working the spring blossoms have more dining options.
"Maybe 20 percent of the acres we cultivate are peaches," said Art Kelly.

The farm in Maine's southernmost county has about 3 1/2 acres of peach trees mixed in with 19 acres of apple trees.

His willingness to plant hardy peach varieties is notable because Maine was once considered too cold for peaches.

"Our planting season is earlier and we're not seeing the fall frost events we used to see," said Kelly.

Renae Moran, a tree fruit specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, says stone fruits may one day end up playing a bigger role in Maine's farming economy.

"We have to look at the facts and the facts indicate the temperature is rising and the weather patterns are changing," she said.

And she says farmers are always looking to diversify.

But Kelly says the peaches aren't a sure thing.

"We lost the crop in 2010 when we had a freeze over Mothers' Day weekend. Then in 2012 we came pretty close again," recalled Kelly.

Overall he says, they've been worth the investment.

For one thing tree ripened peaches are a big seller at farmer's markets.

Kelly says that revenue in August helps offset the high labor costs associated with the apple harvest.

And he says compared to apples, peaches are cheap to grow.

"We can plant peaches for $3,000 an acre. Apples are $10-12 thousand," said Kelly.

Moran says she tells curious Maine farmers to weigh their tolerance for risk.

"When you're planting peaches, you have to be willing to lose every tree. If you can't handle that, stick with something tried and true like apples,' she said.

She says apples will always be Maine's premiere fruit tree, but if weather trends continue, Mainers can expect to see more home grown peaches at their local farm stand.

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