Houston & Peach

Sunday cold snap damaged peach crop

Middle Georgia peach growers were looking at a bumper crop this year until a few hours of record cold hit Sunday morning.

Now, it’s looking more like a so-so crop.

Jeff Cook, the extension agent for Peach and Taylor counties, estimated the total loss throughout the area at about 30 percent. The two counties have about 10,000 acres of peaches. The key, he said, was that there was no breeze to keep frost from forming.

Robert Dickey, owner of Dickey Farms in Crawford County, estimated his loss at about 20 percent.

“We’ve got some limited damage, but overall we feel good about the crop,” Dickey said. “It was just one of those freak things.”

Temperatures dropped to a low of 27 degrees just before dawn Sunday at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport. Dickey said he recorded a low of 28 in his orchards. Most of the damage was in low-lying areas, where some trees were nearly wiped out, while trees in higher areas should still produce maximum yields.

Cook said that’s about the same thing he has seen across the area. It takes a few days for the damage to become evident, so it was only late this week that he had a good sense of the damage.

Until last weekend, growers were excited about the crop because the trees registered about 1,100 chill hours during the winter. To produce maximum yield, the trees need a certain number of those hours, which varies by variety, in temperatures below 45 degrees during the dormant period. Those hours have fallen short a couple of times in recent years, causing significant loss. But 1,100 hours was more than enough for all varieties.

Dickey said that’s why Sunday’s damage was especially disappointing.

“That’s agriculture,” he said. “It could have been worse.”

Peaches are one of Middle Georgia’s most important crops. Because an effective peach-picking machine has yet to be invented, hundreds of workers are employed during the peach season. Stores in Peach County have suffered in years when the crop was significantly damaged.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.