Buds on a new shoot of a peach tree at McDougal Orchards in Springvale will become next year’s peaches. This year, peach trees throughout New England have no fruit because a cold snap on Feb. 8 killed all the buds on peach, plum and nectarine trees. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

All is not peachy in Maine’s peach orchards this year.

A spell of bitter cold weather last February, a day and a half of high winds and temperatures reaching 18 degrees below zero, resulted in total crop failure this summer.

Local peaches – likewise plums – should be in Maine’s farmers markets and farm stands right about now.

The actual number for sale? “Virtually none,” said Renae Moran, professor of pomology with the University of Maine.

Other New England and mid-Atlantic states suffered the same fate. Peach crops in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York and parts of Connecticut were devastated by the same “freakish weather event,” as Moran described it.

“The whole crop is gone,” said Gordon Kenyon, of Locust Grove in Albion. With about 3,000 trees, he is the state’s largest peach grower and possibly the only grower who focuses solely on the fruit. Because peach trees are quite sensitive to cold, it’s known as a risky crop here, and Maine growers have endured other bad years, among them 2010 and 2016. But “nothing like this,” Kenyon said. “This is the worst one.”



Peaches, and even more so plums, are a niche and relatively new market for Maine. Moran estimated just 25 acres of commercial peaches grow in the state, compared to some 1,800 acres of commercial apples. Moran estimated, with a question mark, the commercial plum crop at just 4 acres.

In recent years though, as Maine’s winters have grown warmer, more farmers have planted peach trees and opened u-pick peach operations, as a way to diversify. Some of the farms plant the trees on hills where inversion – the idea that, basically, heat rises – helps to protect them from cold, though not this year.

“I grow a little bit of everything, and if one thing goes bad, I’ve still got the others,” said Mike Farwell of Uncle’s Farm in Hollis Center. He regularly sells peaches, plums and sour cherries alongside many other fruits and vegetables at the Portland Farmers’ Market. This year, though, he didn’t get so much as a single peach or plum, and his cherry crop was smaller than usual, too.

If the the size of the peach crop statewide is small, though, the excitement among peach lovers at their annual appearance each summer is high.

After a decade of trying, Snell Family Farm in Buxton no longer grows peaches. “We realized they really aren’t a very good investment for our location,” Ramona Snell said. “We got maybe three good crops over 10 years.


“But when you hit it, it’s just wonderful,” she continued. “We had a woman who worked for us. When we had peaches, she said, ‘Elvis is in the building,’ because it was that kind of excitement, and ‘Elvis has left the building’ when we sold out. Yeah, pretty analogous.”

The odds for a good harvest are improving, said Moran, who has researched peaches in Maine for 23 years. “We get peaches four out of five years. It used to be two out of five years.”

About that 2016 peach Armageddon, by the way, Art Kelly of Kelly Orchards in Acton, has a funny story. Maybe after time, you can laugh?

“I think we ended up with 20 peaches,” he said about that season. He entered those in the Acton Fair. “I got a blue ribbon for peaches because they were the only ones,” Kelly laughed. “Then I took them home and ate them.”

Peach buds set on the trees the summer before the fruit grows. So, for instance, the buds for next summer’s fruit are being set now. In order to produce fruit, the trees then require about 1,000 chill hours, during which they are dormant. At that point, the buds are primed to wake up for the warmer weather. Moran said neither dormancy nor chill hours seems to have played a role in this year’s crop catastrophe. It simply got too cold.

“Flower buds start to die when the temperature gets to minus 4,” she said. “Some varieties hold to minus 15. Usually, by minus 18, they are all dead.”


Nationally, Georgia, aka the Peach State, is also said to have lost as much as 90% of its crop this summer. In that case, though, the winter was too warm, and the region was hit with two unseasonably late frosts.

Maine peach eaters are just now getting the bad news.

“Now that we are open for the season, we are getting used to disappointing people over and over,” said Polly McAdam, whose family owns McDougal Orchards in Springvale.

Polly McAdam of McDougal Orchards in Springvale stands among some of the orchard’s peach trees, which have no fruit this year. Last year, the orchard harvested over 6,000 pounds of peaches, but a cold snap on Feb. 8 killed every last bud on their peach, plum and nectarine trees. McDougal’s apple orchard, their primary crop, was not impacted by the cold snap. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“There are some pretty sad faces when they find out we don’t have them,” added Kelly.


As with other highly craveable local produce, like strawberries and asparagus, excitement commands high prices. Local apples, depending on the variety, may sell for roughly $1.50 to $2 or more a pound. Local peaches, according to growers, can fetch $3 to $4 per pound, even $5.


Additionally, they often act as a draw. McDougal Orchards, which has u-pick operations, grows many more apples than peaches; the farm has a combined 160 peach and nectarine trees, which last year – a good year – produced between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds of the fruit. But the value of stone fruit goes beyond numbers. Peaches are “something that attracts people to the orchard,” McAdam said.  Along with plums, “it keeps (people) in the orchard a little longer. It adds to the diversity and the excitement of being here.”

She said the farm also lost several community-supported agriculture customers this summer, who were disappointed by the lack of peaches. “One of the most exciting things is you get fresh peaches for three or four weeks,” she said about shares in the farm’s CSA.

Altogether, the loss of income is “pretty significant,” McAdam said. “Peaches give us an extra month of steady income. It’s most of what we sell in August.”

Locust Grove, too, has suffered a significant loss. Depending on the year, Kenyon harvests anywhere from 13,000 to 17,000 pounds of peaches. “Hannaford is marketing peaches at about $3 a pound,” he said. “That tells you something about the scale of the loss.”

And peaches or no, many expenses remain. For Kenyon, that includes fertilizer, pruning (he’s needed to do so twice this year), mowing (to discourage mice) and the installation of a new irrigation system. But Kenyon is 80, and he has retirement money set aside. He said he needn’t rely on this year’s peach income. It’s the young farmers that he worries about.

“When something like this happens and you have $60,000 out of your income package and it’s not replaced by some other thing, not many people can allow that to happen and come back next year,” he said.


For Kelly, the nonexistent peach crop has meant some cost savings, too. He hires a crew each year from Jamaica on H-2A visas. Without peaches to pick, he delayed their arrival by a month, saving money on labor. Peaches require substantial and labor-intensive hand-thinning so that the remaining fruit can grow to a big, attractive size. With no peaches to attend to, Kelly’s crew concentrated on his apples, which were overdue for thinning.

On the whole, though, Kelly said he’d still rather have had a peach crop.

Frankly, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for local apple growers, either. A late May frost across New England, just as apple trees were in full and glorious bloom, wiped out much of the crop, especially in Vermont. Closer to home, though, local apple growers seem to have escaped the worst.

“We’re lucky. We do have apples,” Snell said. “Some of them have a little russeting and weird marks, and some are misshapen, but hopefully we have a crop. It’s pretty remarkable. We came in with very low expectations.”

There’s a little good news for the peach growers, too. Peach trees like an occasional year off from fruit production. “It helps them regain their strength,” Moran said. “The fruit takes a lot of energy to grow.”

Which is probably why orchardists report recovery and lush growth on their trees this summer.


At the hilltop Locust Grove, Kenyon did not actually have 100% peach crop failure. When he and the crew were out pruning early this summer, they came across a single lucky peach hanging from a tree limb. That limb, which had bent near to the ground where it was protected by snow, was spared the brunt of the February freeze. In the spring, a single bud managed to blossom, attract a pollinator and begin to grow into a luscious local peach. As the season progressed, Kenyon was watching that peach “very closely with excitement!”

Then one day, out in the orchard and working with a piece of large equipment, he mistakenly tapped it.


“It flew through the sky. The peach I was going to depend on this year!” he said. “Ahhh, no!”

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