Listen to Austin 360 Radio

How the Texas winter storm might have helped this year's Hill Country peach crop

Addie Broyles
Austin 360
Like many Hill Country peach farms, Jenschke Orchards' crop wasn't as affected by the recent storm as other agricultural businesses in the area.

Finally, some good agricultural news after last month's winter storm Uri.

Peach growers in the Hill Country say the freeze that hit the area in mid-February arrived before the trees started forming buds, which means this year's peach crop shouldn't be affected by the storm. 

Dianne Eckhardt, a third-generation grower outside Fredericksburg, says the snow and ice that came with the storm also helped protect the trees. "The moisture protects the trees and insulates them a little," she says. "We would have worried if the trees were getting ready to come out, but we're still dormant, so the cold was fine."

Now that more typical late winter weather has returned to the area, growers are pruning trees, planting new ones and treating them with a protective spray that keeps winter pests at bay, Eckhardt says. Peaches need a certain amount of "chill hours," so having a prolonged cold spell before budding could help this year's crop.

Others are reading:As Austin farms face devastating loss, farmers markets and relief funds open to help them

At Vogel Orchard, "the trees appear healthy and the buds are receiving very efficient final winter chill which should result in a strong bud setting," Terri Vogel posted on social media in the days after the storm. 

Last year's crop of peaches was strong, and many orchards, including Vogel Orchards, opened with mask protocols in place.

Growers in the area say that if the winter weather had come just a few weeks later or if the cold would have come without the precipitation, the crop would have suffered.  

‘Frozen, dead and rotting’: Central Texas farmers get first look at storm aftermath

But for now, growers like Vogel and Eckhardt will prepare for what looks like a busy peach season. Some farmers in the area also have vegetable crops they sell at the farmstands and pick-your-own strawberries, all of which seem to have survived the freeze. 

Eckhardt's stand typically opens in May and sticks around until August, when customers from all over the state (and beyond) come to pick up their summer peaches. Her parents are retired now, but her dad, Donald, will soon turn 89, and he still calls other farmers in the area to find out how much rain they got or how their peaches are doing. 

"They've known each other their whole lives," she says. "They stay in touch, and weather is still the most important thing."