Fans of Georgia peaches may have a tough time finding them this summer as a mix of long-term climate trends and a spate of bad weather added up to an almost entire loss of the state’s crop.
First, the climate: Peach trees need what growers call chill hours, or time in which unopened blossoms are in sub-45-degree temperatures, before they can make fruit.
Data from the University of Georgia Extension Service describes how chill hours have been on a steady decline for at least 80 years.
Even so, natural fluctuations in that trend still meant there were around 800 or so chill hours this year, just on the line of what is adequate, if not ideal, for some peach varieties grown in the state.
But then came the weather, said Lanier Pearson of Fort Valley’s Pearson Farms.
“It was just kind of like a perfect storm of warm winter, warm February as they’re trying to come out of hibernation,” Pearson said.
Unseasonable warmth in February hastened the blossoms’ development, leaving them vulnerable to what came next: an extreme snap of cold in March.
“We were in the tender developmental stage of the bloom,” said Dario Chavez of the UGA Extension Service. “That freeze basically took all the flowers.”
Chavez said that axed about 95% of the state’s typical peach crop. At Pearson Farms, Lanier Pearson estimated their loss at about 90%
“We haven’t seen a loss like this since 1955,” she said.
Still, she said the Pearsons are grateful for the few peaches they do have.
Back in ’55, a Pearson two generations back ran the family farm.
“And the story is that he found two peaches on the entire farm,” Pearson said. “So it’s not that bad this year, but it’s pretty bad.”
This story comes to The Georgia Sun through a reporting partnership with GA Today, a non-profit newsroom focused on reporting in Georgia.