Recent spring-like temperatures in the 60s and 70s caused some pink flowers to start opening up on the early variety peach trees. Now, cold temperatures can damage the fruit-producing flower and have drastic consequences for the crop, said Sonny Yonce of J.W. Yonce and Sons.
“This is a nervous time for the fruit industry all the way to the first of April,” said Yonce who spotted some blooms on his trees near Johnston, S.C., last week.
In 2007, a late freeze wiped out more than 80 percent of the peach crop as the temperature dropped to 26 degrees in Columbia, S.C., and 28 degrees in Macon. It was more than 20 degrees below the average low for that time of year.
But if the warm weather continues without a freeze, the Southeast will have an early market ahead of California and other peach-producing states, said Dr. Desmond Layne, a horticulturist at Clemson University.
Many farmers have stopped worrying that the winter wouldn’t produce sufficient “chill hours” for the peaches. The peach groves near Fort Valley need between 850 and 900 hours below 45 degrees, depending on variety, said Duke Lane of Lane Packing Co. in Fort Valley.
Accumulating about 150 hours shouldn’t be much problem with a few more weeks of winter, Lane said.
This winter hasn’t been the warmest on record in the major peach growing regions of the states, but the nights have been unusually mild. Columbia has had just 14 nights at freezing or below since the start of November, and just four of those nights have seen hard freezes, where the low dips below 30 degrees. It has been a little colder in Macon, which has seen 25 nights at freezing or below, with the majority of them in the 20s.
Associated Press reports contributed to this story.