Opinion Columns & Blogs

Bad year for peaches, good for gnats

wmarshall@macon.com

On more than one occasion, my daddy told me what Mr. Bill Wilson, Peach County peach farmer, told him: “Cohen, I didn’t make enough peaches this year to make one peach pie.” Knowing daddy like I did, and knowing of Mr. Bill’s reputation, I knew that this sad tale was true. And, I just got reinforced confirmation.

My friend, and present peach farmer, Al Pearson, related to me his grandfather’s experience: “Larry, the year Mr. Wilson was talking about had to be 1955. My grandfather told me that he found two peaches in all of his groves in 1955. He said that he ate one and gave his wife “one slice out of the other one.” Wow. I wonder who he gave the other slices to? There must have been at least three or four more slices.

Then Al told me some other really interesting things. He said that “1955 and 1996 were the two worst years of my life.” You know about 1955. Al went ahead to tell me that “in 1996, we made two to four percent of a crop. And, in many years we would make 20 to 50 percent.”

Then, the most surprising thing: “Some years we would have a ‘bumper crop’ and because the market would ‘bust,’ we would still lose money. We would spend lots of money and wouldn’t get much back.”

All that glitters is not gold. And, all that grows is not gold.

This year, I’ve heard that peach farmers are expecting about a 20 to 25 percent crop. It is interesting that the 1955 and 1996 failure were both because of late freezes, whereas this year’s problem is the results of not enough cold hours during the winter. This is what my friend and peach farmer, Robert Dickey, told me about “cold hours.” “Although it varies, according to the variety, I believe that winter hours below 40 degrees should be 900 or more, whereas, this year, the ‘cold hours’ were 500 plus. Thus, a 20 to 25 percent crop.”

With the warming temperatures, Middle Georgia peach farmers have to have concerns about future peach crops. And, I do, too! The Middle Georgia peach farmers have been an integral part of the economy in our area for many, many years. We cannot afford to lose the peach industry. Let’s hope our peach farmers will get the cold hours, next year, but not a late freeze, like the ones that destroyed the peach crops in 1955 and 1996.

Let me confess. I have always thought that “our gnats” had some connections (perhaps) to the annual arrival of our peaches. But, while the 2017 peach crop is woefully off, it’s a banner year for gnats. Those of you who work outside or like to stay outside, say “amen.” It’s been a long time since I’ve seen gnats like we have this year. Up your nose, in your ears, etc.

Foster Rhodes, in roasting me at the recent Warner Robins Rotary Roast, said: “Larry even wrote a book about gnats!” And, I did, in part. The book was, “Life on the Gnat Line,” which is where we live, the gnat line, or the fall line, or the Piedmont Plateau. And, there are gnats on it and below it, but not above it. Why? No one seems to know. Does anyone north of the gnat line care?

My friend, Alton Moultrie, told me several years ago, that “God assigns everyone 11 gnats that follow them around everywhere they go.” Well, this must be a “state average” because they don’t have’em above Macon. My contention is that if they had gnats in Atlanta, there would be a lot more money and effort spent in getting rid of them. Right? I’ll bet that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed wouldn’t put up with gnats in their noses, although Gov. Deal ought to be able to remember how bad they were when he lived in Sandersville.

Let’s see: feral hogs, fire ants, kudzu, armadillos, Johnson grass and gnats. Eventually, the government will get all of this under control. “Eventually.” Remember the screw worm? Correction, they will get all of this except gnats under control. You live in the wrong part of the Georgia. Learn to live with your God given 11. And, by the way, I now know that the arrival of the peaches has nothing to do with “our gnats.”

Larry Walker serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.

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