Peach farmer Duke Lane III won’t rest easy until sometime next month.
Warm weather that is producing early buds has some growers licking their chops about getting a jump on their biggest competitors. But the threat of a damaging late frost is keeping others like Lane awake at night.
“We won’t sleep really good until the 11th or 12th (of April),” said Lane, president of the Georgia Peach Council and a Fort Valley grower.
Farmers were initially concerned the peach buds wouldn’t receive the needed cold temperatures for making the best-tasting peach. The mild winter gave way to chilly nights in late February before warm days pushed the flowers into bloom, Lane said. The beautiful blooming orchards will likely last until the end of the week.
Augusta and the nearby South Carolina peach growing areas are nearing the end of the frost period, said Georgia Deputy State Climatologist Nyasha Dunkley. In 2011, the last freeze of the season came on March 12.
“The chance of a late frost or hard freeze is very rare,” Dunkley said.
The average last freeze date for Augusta is March 29 and for Columbia is March 30.
Sonny Yonce, of J.W. Yonce & Sons in Johnston, S.C., said farms in the South Carolina ridge growing area will start packing peaches the first or second week in May. If the weather cooperates, they will likely have an edge on the California peach industry.
“The good thing is we get in the marketplace and it gives us some competitive edge,” Yonce said.
Peaches are most susceptible to frost damage during the flower blooming stage, Lane said. Area growers were last hit by a hard freeze on April 8, 2007, when low temperatures killed about 90 percent of the peaches in what came to be known as the “Easter freeze.”
“Concern is really ongoing until we pick a peach,” Lane said. “We don’t feel comfortable until the peach is in the box.”