Last year’s summer peach crop was disastrous, but Georgia’s peach crop rebounded this summer following colder temperatures in December and January, according to Jeff Cook, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for Taylor and Peach counties.
“We were very optimistic this winter, but then we kind of got our feelings hurt because of that late-season freeze in March. But I will say that everybody is excited about having a lot more peaches this year than last year,” Cook said.
The mild winter in 2017 contributed to an 80 percent loss of Georgia’s peach crop. Cook estimated that about 70 percent of those losses could be attributed to a lack of chill hours.
Peaches need chill hours with temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit to mature. Most trees need between 900 and 1,000 chill hours.
Peaches require chill hours to grow, though temperatures that dip below freezing can also hurt the quality of the crop. Peach trees bloom in early to mid-March, so late-season freezes can also damage the crop. According to Cook, a late-season freeze affected this year’s crop.
“We started the season with low volume, but now that we are into our high-chill-hour peaches, that volume is picking up with good quality and size,” he said.
Georgia peach farmer Lee Dickey manages a farm in Crawford County, Georgia, that covers approximately 1,000 acres. He has been pleased with the early-season varieties that account for 25 to 30 percent of his entire crop.
“I think that, although we had good chill hours, the quality of the chill this year was not great. We had a lot of hours below 45 degrees and also had a lot of chill below 32 (degrees), which is not ideal,” Dickey said. “I think some growers in places, certainly south of us, have seen some chill issues this year, but that’s relatively small compared to damage from the freeze.”
Dickey was one of many Georgia peach producers who suffered through a warm winter with last season’s crop. The lack of cold temperatures was a big reason Dickey harvested only about 20 percent of his standard crop.
Cook has seen cases of bacterial spot disease in many varieties this year. He said it is not something growers experience every year with every variety, but it is a lot more widespread this summer.
“Right now, mainly all we’re seeing are leaf spots and some defoliation. We’re not seeing too much on the fruit,” Cook said.
Bacterial spot is a sporadic leaf-spot disease that can cause defoliation in certain cultivars. Spots can also appear on the fruit, causing damage and leaving fruit unmarketable.