Freeze could devastate peach crop

EDGEFIELD COUNTY, S.C.– Two nights of below-freezing temperatures could mean a “blanket kill” of the Edgefield area’s peach crop, said Sonny Yonce, of Big Smile Peaches.

 

Some other crops, such as strawberries, may fare a bit better because they can be better protected from the cold that’s expected to hit a low in the mid-20s early Wednesday.

“Eighty to 90 percent of everything in our fields has been woken up by the warm weather we had in February, so a freeze of 23 or 24 degrees could kill more than just the early varieties,” Yonce said about the peach crops. “We just have to wait and see.”

The National Weather Service’s forecast for Edgefield called for a low Wednesday morning of 26 degrees – above theblanket kill mark – but with winds in the 9-14 mph range could make wind chill factor a threat. The low for Thursday morning is expected to fall to 23. Frost is expected by 10 Wednesday night, and temperatures won’t be high enough to melt it until after 10 a.m. Thursday.

There’s not much the peach farmers can do about it, Yonce said. Twenty years ago, farmers would light fires in the orchards, even hire helicopter pilots to hover over the fields and try to push warmer air from above down to the trees, he said. Those methods didn’t do much good, he said, so for most peach farmers it’s just a matter of watching, waiting and praying.

At Gurosik’s Berry Plantation, Clyde Gurosik has more options because his is a ground crop.

Last Saturday, workers began putting down very large blankets called thermal row covers, which can shield a whole field by holding in the relative warmth of the ground.

If that’s not enough, he can employ his sprinklers to coat the blankets in ice and hold the temperature near freezing instead of 10 degrees lower.

Called “overhead irrigation,” the technique “can protect way down to 10 degrees if there’s no wind,” Gurosik said.

His peach farmer friends can’t do either of those. There’s no blanket big enough and spraying water would injure tree trunks and break branches, “just like an ice storm,” Gurosik said.

The area hasn’t seen back-to-back cold nights like what’s predicted since the Easter freeze of 2007, he said.

That freeze made peaches scarce and expensive.

“My friends with peach orchards are extremely worried,” Gurosik said. “It’s in God’s hands.”

Maintaining a sense of humor in the face of disaster, Yonce said he might try to send an emissary.

“I think I better call that Clemson coach and ask him to help. He seems to have good connections.”

Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or james.folker@augustachronicle.com.

 

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