Fruit crop hammered again

Fruit crop hammered again

Posted: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 7:39 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter Pam Killion of the Shawtown community tries to figure the odds of two consecutive years of disaster to the family business and hopes there won’t be a third one. “It’s got to turn around or we won’t be here,” she said. Mrs. Killion and other family members own and operate Flippen’s Fruit Farm Inc., a local agribusiness established in 1954 in Shawtown by her parents, Jack and Diane Flippen. Jack and Diane are fully retired. The business is managed by Mrs. Killion and her husband, Steve, and her brother, Hayes Flippen. For years they made their living — and provided jobs for others — from the peaches, apples and nectarines grown in orchards on their land. In northwest Tennessee, an annual rite of passage each summer was the ripening of several varieties of peaches. And it was well worth the wait. Take one of those peaches, fresh off a tree, hold it in the palm of the hand, feel its firmness. Consider its symmetry and color. An image forms in your head: You see yourself biting into one. You swoon, your taste buds go wild. Not only is this creation tasty, it’s also soft and moist and endowed with a flavor that defies adequate description. You savor the moment; you feel a little line of peach juice dribble down your chin. You decide to buy a peck or two and take them home. Visions of peach cobblers dance in your head. Peach ice cream, too. The verbal picture painted in the paragraphs above was the rite of passage each summer for years and years. Each year, as spring advanced toward summer, peach trees would shower their bounty. Each year, you came to expect it to happen. And why not? It was an established rite of passage. That’s the way it was. But now? Well, survival is the key word. “We lost 50 percent of our crop this year, in April,” Mrs. Killion said. “A couple of nights of 27- and 28-degree temperatures did it.” It was Round 2 of Mother Nature’s heavy hammering. In 2007, on the weekend of April 6-7, temperatures plummeted to about 23 degrees on consecutive nights. The 2007 fruit crop was a total loss. “Two years in a row, over a period of about 50 years. What’s the odds of that happening?” Mrs. Killion mused. At least it’s not a total wipeout, as occurred in 2007. Mrs. Killion said the peach crop, or what’s left of it, began maturing in mid-May. Sales have been brisk. “The peaches that we have are delicious, real nice. But we just don’t have enough of them,” she said. “We’ve been moving every peach we could, and had to turn down orders for 1,000 boxes of peaches because we just didn’t have them. That hurts. There’s not a lot of peaches in the South. We have friends who totally wiped out and others who suffered 40 and 50 percent damage to their crops like we were.” Hayes Flippen, president of Flippen Fruit Farms Inc., said there have been several changes to the family business. The restaurant at Flippen’s Hillbilly Barn at Shawtown has closed. Retail outlets offering fruit and fruit byproducts have been established at Union City, Dyersburg and Jackson. And the bakery business is thriving. A bakery has been established in the old restaurant area; a workforce staff of 25 produces about 70,000 biscuits and 20,000 dinner rolls a week for commercial customers near and far. And an Internet business ships biscuits and such to customers in all 50 states. Flippen said that because of the soaring increase in the price of fuel and food, there has been a 20-percent increase in the price of all their products. “We use a lot of flour, of course,” he said. “In October 2007, we were paying $8 for 50 pounds. Now we pay $20 for 50 pounds. We use a ton of flour a month. We buy it from a flour mill at Hopkinsville, Ky.” Published in The Messenger 7.9.08

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