May 19 , 2006
By Bobby Horecka
Bill Psnecik's peach trees near Fredericksburg would normally be teeming with fruit at this time of the year, awaiting the first sweet rewards of the Texas Hill Country harvest.
But not this year.
In fact, Psnecik says he likely won't pick one peach in the 700 trees he farms.
"Our peach crop is downright pitiful this year," he said.
And the same is true of most of his neighbors' orchards. What managed to skirt the drought by means of regular irrigation missed the cold weather necessary for peach production in an unusually warm February.
And the hardy varieties that managed to survive all of that were either quashed by late freezes in March or throttled by one of the four hail storms that blew through the area.
Psencik could count on one hand the number of neighbors whose orchards managed to bear fruit this yearmostly those who were fortunate enough to miss the stormsbut even they will be looking at a fraction of what they normally produce, he says.
"We're anticipating just 15 percent of our crop this year," said James Kamas, peach growing specialist with the Gillespie County Cooperative Extension Service.
Considering more than the 40 percent of the Texas peach crop comes from the Hill Country fields surrounding Fredericksburg, that will be a serious blow to the Texas peach crop.
Gillespie County is home to 1,400 commercial peach acres, making it Texas' largest peach-producing county.
Diane Eckhardt's family helped pioneer the peach growing tradition in the area. Her grandfather Otto planted one of the first orchards near Frederiscksburg back in the 1930s.
"This year is our 70th anniversary," she said. "I just wish we had a good crop to go with it."
Her family grows some 45 different varieties on their 120 acre orchard. Although they'll manage a few peaches this year, the harvest will be nowhere near what it should be.
Psencik began his farm in 1997, moving full-time to his orchard in 2000 when he retired after 45 years as an accountant.
Most of his customers were visitors who came to the farm for pick-your-own service. Psencik said he would get busloads from schools and retirement homes in years past. He also harvested some of his own that he sold to Austin area grocers and farmers markets.
"But we definitely won't be doing that this year," he said.
The blow from the market sales won't be nearly as hard to overcome as the missed grocer supply. Missing one year with them, Psencik said, makes it that much harder to sell his crop the next time around.
Crop insurance on his peach trees should help cover the costs of what he put in so far, Psencik said, but even that's only because he did all of the pruning and tree tending himself this year.
Visitors to Psencik Peach Farm may find blackberries for the pickinga few of those have managed to survive the weather extremes, he saidbut the real fruits of his labors, the Hill Country peaches, will be rare finds this year. And that could affect business for years, he said.
"People keep coming back if they have a place they like, but when supplies aren't there like this year, they tend to wander someplace else."
And wander they will. The only area in the state with favorable peach growing conditions this year was North Texas, Kamas said.
"It's been a bad year for all sorts of agricultural ventures in Texas this year," Kamas said. "I just hope we'll be able to recover from it soon."