Tom Range checks peaches on a tree in his orchard in Belleville, Ill. Growers are reporting an outstanding crop this year and are looking forward to a decent apple crop.
Tom Range checks peaches on a tree in his orchard in Belleville, Ill. Growers are reporting an outstanding crop this year and are looking forward to a decent apple crop.
BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Illinois peach growers are having a sweet season, as customers flock to orchards to sample the jewels of the state’s fruit harvest.

Tom Range of Braeutegam Orchards in Belleville is among those who are celebrating an exceptional crop.

“I’d say if we had to rate this crop as far as quality, this is about as good a year as we’ve ever had,” he said.

His fruit suffered hail damage last year. This year most are spotless.

“This was the polar opposite of last year,” Range said. “Although our peaches were not bad last year, we had a hailstorm in the spring.

“This year, they have a slick finish, with hardly any marks on them. We really are having a hard time finding peaches that are culls or seconds. That is a good problem. There was no hail, and we had milder than usual temperatures and good rainfall. I’m on hilly ground, so we didn’t get flooded out, although too much water’s not good on any plant.”

Leroy Yoder of Echo Valley Orchards in Carbondale has been through some hard times since he and other Amish families relocating here from Pennsylvania bought Grammer Orchards several years ago, right before a historic cold snap that froze out both the peach and apple crops.

Some trepidation is evident in his assessment of the crop, but he has been pleased with the peaches this season.

“I wouldn’t say everything is excellent, but they are really good this year,” Troyer said.

As in most places, harvest is later than average this year, due partly to the cool temperatures across much of Illinois.

“They’re a little late. The last varieties are starting to catch up now with the early ones, though,” Troyer said. “But the peaches are really nice size this year.”

Range also had a late harvest this season.

“The same varieties we’re getting now we were picking three to four weeks earlier last year,” he said. “It was the most exaggerated difference I’ve ever seen. Last year was the earliest season we’ve ever had and this year — while not the latest — is as late as it gets.”

Tom Schwartz, who has an orchard in Dix, is also seeing good fruit this year.

“Ours are much better than they were last year,” he said. “The quality of our crop is great. Size is very good also.”

Like with other growers, his crop came in late this year.

“It’s probably a week to 10 days later than usual,” Schwartz said. “We’ll be into Crest Havens here pretty soon.”

As producers go through the peach harvest, most are also looking toward apples. And while the drought of 2012 is showing its effects on the fruit — namely through inadequate pollination — most growers are hopeful.

Range said his apples look good so far.

“Apples aren’t a 100 percent crop,” he said. “We’re looking at 80 to 90 percent crop. Apples can make up for lack of pollination in terms of size. The size looks really good.”

Schwartz also sees some good potential for apples.

“They’re not as heavy as last year, but they’re looking pretty good,” he said.