Published on 01/10/08

Peaches welcomed cold snap, but need more

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia peach farmers welcomed the cold snap that rolled through the state the first of this year. Their trees need more, though, but they probably won’t get it, says a University of Georgia fruit specialist.

Nighttime temperatures dropped into the teens and low 20s across the state on Jan. 2. The nippy weather stuck around for three to four days and gave peach trees a much-needed dose of chill.

But they need more, said Kathy Taylor, a UGA Cooperative Extension peach specialist. Peach trees go dormant in winter. During this time, they need chill hours, or hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, to properly bloom in spring and produce a lot of big fruit in summer.

Behind hundreds of hours

Right now, the trees are behind in those hours. About 90 percent of Georgia’s 15,000 acres of peaches grow in middle Georgia. As of Jan. 8, this region had received 446 chill hours. Growers like to have at least 600 hours by this time and be well on their way to getting at least 1,100 total hours by Feb. 15.

“We are concerned now because the forecast is for above temperatures for the rest of month,” she said. “It looks like we will be short on chill this year if temperatures stay warm. Growers need to be ready to do something about it by the end of this month.”

It’s always better to get the chill hours naturally, she said. But growers can apply chemicals and fertilizer to help compensate for low chill hours. It can cost $20 to $100 per acre to do this, though.

Georgia peach growers got too much cold weather too late last year. A freeze Easter weekend pummeled what was on its way to being a good crop, Taylor said, wiping out 55 percent of the crop.

“But that freeze is behind us, and we’re on a clean slate now,” she said.

Onions fine unless ground freezes

Georgia’s official vegetable, the Vidalia Onion, likes cool winters and doesn’t mind a few days of bitter weather. But not too much, said Reid Torrance, UGA Extension coordinator in Tattnall County, where 60 percent of the Vidalia onion crop is grown.

Delicate onion bulbs can survive very low temperatures as long as the ground doesn’t freeze, he said. The last time the ground froze enough to damage bulbs was a decade ago.

“The wind caused some damage to the foliage. We have some fields that look pretty rough right now, kind of bummed them up a little,” Torrance said. “But we had no serious damage from the recent cold.”

The plants are already on their way to recovery, he said. Temperatures in the area this week have settled into the 60s for the days and 40s at nights. That’s good onion growing weather in Georgia.

Tender greens hit hard

The cold snap hurt tender green crops like mustard and turnips, said Terry Kelley, a UGA Extension vegetable specialist. But tougher greens like collards and kale faired OK.

“The mustard and turnips close to harvest got a pretty good lick which likely hurt quality,” he said.

Farmers with severely damaged fields will likely just mow back the plants. The plants will put on new leaves for another crop in 50 days.

It’s never welcome. But a little freeze damage is something farmers who plant greens in the winter expect, he said, even in Georgia.

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