Originally created 03/06/02

Peach damage varies

Freezing temperatures have devastated the south Georgia peach crop, but the damage might not be as severe in middle Georgia, where the bulk of the state's peaches are grown.

South Carolina peach growers say their crops have had little damage.

"Right now we're still in real good shape," said Wayne Mack, the director of marketing for the South Carolina Peach Council. "On some very, very early varieties there may have been a little damage, but they're very minuscule as far as our crop is concerned in South Carolina. Right now, we're sitting on what would be considered a full crop.

"One of the peach brokers said the south Georgia crop was literally taken out. Their fruit should move a little quicker than ours as far as tree development, blossoms and blooms and it did. By next week, we'll start having a good bit of peach blooms," Mr. Mack said.

"Now if these warm days come the end of this week, then if we get down into the low 20s (next week) we'll probably have some damage," he said.

John DeWitt, a grower in Georgia's Brooks County, said he lost 60 percent of his crop when temperatures dipped into the teens last weekend and into the 20s Tuesday morning.

"It's like anything else - you've got to pick up and go on," said Mr. DeWitt, who has 450 acres of peach trees. "You just hope you can put it together and tell your banker what you plan to do next year."

Kathy Taylor, the Georgia Extension Service's stone fruit specialist in Byron, said south Georgia growers lost 50 to 70 percent of their crop in a freeze last week.

"They are trying to assess the last couple of nights," she said.

It's still too early to determine the impact in middle Georgia, where the temperature dipped to 19.5 degrees in one orchard, she said. About 90 percent of the state's peaches are grown in middle Georgia, near Macon, Fort Valley and Byron.

The south Georgia peaches were more vulnerable because they were further along in their growth.

"Down there they were in full bloom on three major varieties that make up 60 to 70 percent of the south Georgia crop," Ms. Taylor said.

In middle Georgia, the fruit was in good shape through the weekend and the freezing temperatures had helped to thin some of the buds, she said. Peach trees have to be thinned to improve the quality of the fruit.

Ms. Taylor said middle Georgia growers won't know whether the storm caused significant damage until today or Thursday.

Meteorologists said the Southern freeze was caused by a dip in the jet stream, the high-altitude airstream that influences weather. Frost advisories were issued for southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and northern Florida.

Lows Monday night ranged from the teens in the north Georgia mountains to the low 30s in south Georgia. Forecasters predicted more freezing temperatures Tuesday night, followed by a gradual warming for the rest of the week.

Staff Writer Carly Phillips contributed to this report.


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