Published on 01/09/02

Sweet Georgia Crops Welcome Winter Freeze

Mild fall weather gave way to sharp drops in temperatures over the past few weeks in much of Georgia. This wintry weather comes none too early for two major sweet crops in the state, say University of Georgia experts.

Georgia peach farmers welcomed the cold. Their peaches need a certain number of chill hours, or hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, between Oct. 1 and Feb. 15.

Need a Chill

Depending on the variety, peaches need from 400 to about 1,000 chill hours to perform well during the growing season, said Kathryn Taylor, a horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

About 95 percent of Georgia's peaches are grown in the middle of the state. To get by, peaches there need at least 900 chill hours by Feb. 15.

"The past couple of weeks of cold weather has helped a lot," Taylor said.

So Far, So Good

So far, the region has about 480 chill hours. That's good. But to get all the chill hours needed by Feb. 15, the area must get 12 chill hours a day.

"If we can get that, we'll be in good shape," she said.

South Georgia peaches need about 650 chill hours before Feb. 15. But they can live with 600 hours, Taylor said.

So far, south Georgia has about 402 chill hours. That's also good. To get the rest of their chill hours, peaches here need about 6.5 chill hours a day before Feb. 15.

Peaches require a certain number of chill hours to break winter dormancy, Taylor said. If they don't get the hours, it can cause the fruit to be poorly shaped or aborted.

After Feb. 15, peach trees begin putting on buds. They then start requiring heat units, or temperatures above 55 degrees.

Onions Welcome Cold

Georgia Vidalia onion growers welcomed the cold, too.

"We're going to lose some foliage from frost injury and sleet damage. But overall, we're looking pretty good," said Reid Torrance, county extension agent in Tattnall County, where about 60 percent of the Vidalia onions grow.

He said the onions needed the cold weather.

Slower Growth

"We've had such a warm fall that until about three weeks ago, the onions were actually growing too fast," he said. "We needed some cooler weather to slow down the growth. We're pretty happy with the growth of the onions right now."

Vidalia onions are harvested from late April through June.

The number of planted acres won't be reported until March.

"I don't see any big change in acreage, however, from last year," Torrance said. Farmers planted around 15,000 acres of Vidalia onions in 2000.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.