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Fruit Growers' Hopes Spring Into Action
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- To the untrained eye, Mississippi simply experienced a colorful spring. To fruit and pecan growers, it was like a breath of fresh air.
A March freeze in 1996 wiped out the state's peach and blueberry crops. Pecan trees still are not 100 percent recovered from the 1994 ice storm. But this year, the forecast is much improved.
Dr. Freddie Raspberry, extension horticulture specialist at Mississippi State University, said the undependable nature of Mississippi's fruit crops has driven many growers away from the business.
"The number of fruit and pecan growers has been decreasing drastically across the Southeast because the crops are so undependable," Raspberry said. "Blueberries are our brightest star in the state's fruit crops."
Raspberry said Mississippi may be looking at more than a million dollar crop on less than 1,000 acres of blueberries. Growers continue to add acres each year.
George Adrian, a peach, nectarine and apple grower in Pontotoc County, said 1997 looks to be a "vintage year."
Adrian said he is just completing the pruning process and the next job will be thinning the fruit from the trees.
"Thinning allows for larger fruit, avoids breaking overburdened limbs and helps improve next year's crop by not overcropping this year," he said.
Adrian said last year's apples were able to avoid freeze damage because of later bloom dates. The quality of the crop also benefitted from a cool fall.
Raspberry said growing fruit crops are most economically feasible for established growers like Adrian. Newer producers often meet with discouraging economic setbacks.
"Fruit crops can be ideal hobbies, but for growers with mortgages and car payments, these crops don't provide consistent and predictable incomes," Raspberry said.