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Cold's return just in time for Georgia peach crop

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

Don't let the warm days of early January make you impatient for spring. Experts say Georgia's peach crop outlook is good because that unseasonable warmth didn't stay too long.

"The cold weather came just in time," said Kathy Taylor, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Cold weather is crucial to making a good peach crop.

"When our winter temperatures went up after the new year, south Georgia had accumulated just over 400 hours of chilling, middle Georgia had 500 hours and north Georgia had more than 700 hours," Taylor said.

Each peach variety requires a certain number of chill hours, or hours below 45 degrees, to begin blooming and setting fruit.

"North and south Georgia had accumulated enough chill for their earliest-blooming peach varieties," she said.

That's only about 1 percent of the total peach acreage in the state, she said. But it's as much as 30 percent of the earnings for those growers.

Cool temperatures are good for peaches. Up and down temperatures, though, are not.

"The concern we had about the warm weather was that the buds of varieties that had received enough chill would begin to react to the warmer temperatures, making them more vulnerable to freezing temperatures that would undoubtedly follow," Taylor said.

"A small percentage of buds in south Georgia began to swell with the warm temperatures and will likely be damaged," she said, by the freezing temperatures that followed.

The good news for fresh peach lovers and growers alike is only 10 to 15 percent of the buds on most varieties need to actually set fruit for the grower to have an economically viable crop.

"Not enough warm weather had occurred to cause excessive bud movement in the earliest blooming varieties," Taylor said.

Heading into the last week of January, south Georgia had accumulated about 500 hours of chilling, middle Georgia 620 hours and north Georgia 800 hours.

"The majority of varieties grown in the south and middle Georgia areas can get by if they acquire an additional 200 hours of chilling," she said. "North Georgia will do OK with another 100 hours."

If the forecast for the last week of January holds true, south Georgia should get another 75 hours and middle and north Georgia another 100 hours over the next week.

"We have until the end of February to accumulate the rest," Taylor said. "So the industry appears to be on track to have enough chill hours for this season."

Georgia is the third largest producer of peaches in the United States behind California and South Carolina. The biggest peach-growing areas in Georgia are Peach, Taylor, Crawford and Macon counties in middle Georgia, Brooks County in south Georgia and Hall County in north Georgia.

The annual economic value of the Georgia peach crop is $50 million.

The first juicy bite into a fresh Georgia peach? Priceless.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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