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Farmers on Utah’s Famous Fruit Way hit hard by hurricane force winds

Posted at 6:02 PM, Sep 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-10 20:02:55-04

WILLARD, Utah — A farmer along Utah’s Famous Fruit Way is out thousands of pounds of fruit after hurricane force winds decimated crops Monday night.

“There’s nothing there to really account for, it’s just garbage,” said Steven Pettingill as he looked out at his peach orchard.

At the beginning of the week, the 4-acre plot of land was home to lush 34-year-old peach trees, nearly ready for harvest.

Now, the space is full of uprooted trees, snapped branches and tens of thousands of pieces of wasted fruit.

“It’s just gone,” Pettingill said. “This is a big loss, South Willard area was a big loss.”

The delicate trees didn’t stand a chance against the 100 mile-per-hour winds that whipped through the area Monday night.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and when we have a really high wind in Willard, South Willard area, I know the winds can reach up to 100 miles-per-hour,” said Pettingill.

Steven, the owner and operator of Pettingill’s Fruit Farm, is one of many farmers hit hard by Mother Nature. He recalled seeing similar devastation on his family’s farm in his childhood, but hadn’t seen such high winds since he planted the peach orchard in 1986.

“I was worried this would happen,” said Pettingill. “But, I don’t really have anything I can do to guard against that… I could have gone out and picked a bunch [of peaches] in advance, but I still have other peaches to sell too.”

“I would have had a backlog of old peaches, versus fresh peaches that people like,” he continued. “People don’t want peaches that are old… it’s hard to prepare for this.”

Pettingill said peaches make up more than 70-percent of the farm’s overall revenue. The orchard that was demolished by the winds was just days away from harvest.

“These would have been really good peaches for people to have,” he said as he picked one up off of the ground and dropped it back into the dirt.

To put a number on it, the 4-acre plot is now filled with roughly 60-thousand unusable peaches, accounting for roughly 20-thousand dollars in lost revenue.

“There’s no sense in trying to pick this up, you’re just picking up peaches that are infected with micro-organisms from the soil that would cause problems,” Pettingill said.

“In one day it’s going to be bruised,” he explained. “It will just really turn dark and it will go rotten before it goes good.”

As it was, Pettingill said he only had about 15-percent of his annual peach crop due to early season frost and hail.

With a pre-windstorm deficit, he had already made the decision to cut out selling to wholesale customers in other states.

“A lot of them go to Nebraska, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, everywhere, Montana,” he said. “I didn’t do any of those sales this year, so all of the peaches I did have stay here in Utah.”

While he does have other varieties of peaches in other orchards throughout their 100-plus acre location, he estimates he is out 95-percent of his peach crop for the year.

“You’ve invested a lot of money, in our operation it’s up to maybe 150-thousand dollars to invest, where we don’t get anything [in return],” Pettingill explained of the growing season. “Then you get right to the point of harvest and this happens… so it’s kind of a sad thing for this.”

To make matters worse, 20-thousand dollars’ worth of peaches weren’t the only loss. Add in apples and all other produce, the family owned farm has lost four times that amount.

“In this field right here,” he said as he pointed out an apple orchard a short drive from the peaches. “I normally pick somewhere from 40 to 50 bins of apples and I think I’ll get maybe, maybe 15 or 20.”

Steven said they will revisit the orchard in a couple of weeks to salvage the apples still attached to the trees. Still, they will have other issues.

“Even the trees that have fruit on them, the fruits going to be so damaged,” he said.

Bottom line, this hurts their bottom line.

“Everyone says 2020 shouldn’t happen,” he laughed. “It’s been a tough year.”

Looking out on the field, you may see nothing but bad apples. But this farmer, is choosing to see the good.”

“It’s the business I’m in, I know it can happen, and so it’s one of those things where it’s a little bit of a heartache but we’ll move on, we’ll clean up the orchard and plant new trees, and do what we can to make this better,” Pettingill said.

“I’m appreciative of the customers we do have and the ability to grow fruit for them,” he smiled.

Steven said they will start cleaning up the orchards in the next couple of weeks.

When asked how he was staying so optimistic, Steven had one answer.

“If the glass isn’t half full, don’t keep farming.”