Published on 03/05/14

Georgia's peach crop benefitting from cold temperatures

By Clint Thompson

Georgia’s peach crop will benefit from the cooler-than-normal winter. While temperatures have already hovered near or below freezing throughout the state on numerous nights this year, peach trees are thriving with their needed cooling hours.

“Peaches have the potential to be really good as long as we don’t have a bloom followed by another cold snap,” said Phillip Brannen, a University of Georgia plant pathologist in Athens. “We have all the chill hours we need, and if we get a week of good warm weather, everything’s going to bloom at once.”

Chill hours refer to the amount of colder weather a peach tree needs in order to sustain growth during the winter. If a tree gets enough of those hours, then the buds know instinctively that it’s okay to bloom in the spring. If not enough chill hours are attained, the bloom is delayed and often non-uniform.

Delayed or protracted bloom caused by poor chill hours can make it very difficult for peach farmers to harvest as the peach fruit ripens at different rates due to delayed starts under those conditions. Total production could also be reduced.

Brannen says the current chill hours for peaches are “nearly perfect.”

“Once warm conditions arrive for a week or so, we should have a uniform and full bloom,” he said. “However, we really need it to stay warm after that, as a late freeze can really cause lots of damage if all the blooms are out at the same time or close to it.”

Depending on how developed the blooms and young peaches are, a late-arriving cold snap can cause 100 percent loss, Brannen said.

“The ideal scenario is for it to stay cold a little bit longer, then everything blooms and it remains warm,” Brannen said. “That’s what we would love to see.”

According to the 2012 Farm Gate Value Report, peaches were grown on 11,029 acres in Georgia and generated a farm gate value of $33.8 million. Macon County produced the most peaches with 2,515 acres, followed by Peach County with 2,371.

Peaches are the second most popular fruit grown in Georgia behind blueberries.

Clint Thompson is an agriculture writer based in Tifton, Georgia.

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