Georgia’s recent abnormally cold weather has been good for its developing peach and blueberry crops. But a warm spell now could cause blooms to emerge too soon.
Because of the extended cold spell, chill hours, or hours below 45 degrees, have accumulated rapidly across the state. Peaches and blueberries, two major crops for the state, need a certain amount of these hours during their dormancy in winter to perform well during the growing season.
Chill hours are in excess of 800 across much of middle and south Georgia. This means that many varieties of peaches and blueberries have reached or are near the number of chill hours needed to break their dormancy.
Any extended period of temperatures in the 70s now could result in blueberries and peaches flowering. If early flowering occurs, peaches and blueberries will be very susceptible to a damaging late winter or spring freeze.
Producers are encouraged to take appropriate action to protect their crops from a possible freeze.
Agricultural fields are expected to remain near saturation through March. Late winter and spring field work is expected to be delayed.
The wet soils mean that flood risk is enhanced statewide.
The current El Niño winter pattern is expected to continue with below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation through March.
It is not unusual for an extended dry period to follow an El Niño winter, with the dryness beginning mid-spring.
Up-to-date weather information, including chill hours, may be found at www.georgiaweather.net.
(David Emory Stooksbury is associate professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)
Peaches hang in a south Georgia orchard July 2009. This year's cold winter has benefitted the state's peach crop.Download Image