Peach State Was a Bit Too Warm for Peaches This Year

Georgia set to lose 95% of crop due to atypically warm temps, followed by damaging frosts
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 26, 2023 10:05 AM CDT
Peach State Was a Bit Too Warm for Peaches This Year
Stock photo.   (Getty Images / nata_zhekova)

The Peach State isn't doing so peachy right now, at least not when it comes to its signature fruit. "You will not be able to find a Georgia peach in grocery stores this year," Lanier Pearson, the wife of a fifth-generation peach farmer in the state, told 11Alive in May, citing a "triple whammy" of too-warm temps in December and February, followed by a March frost. Earlier this month, a report from CNN showed that Pearson wasn't exaggerating: University of Georgia horticulture professor Dario Chavez told the outlet that Georgia saw more than 90% of this year's peach crop go down the tubes. Experts tell the Washington Post that number could reach as high as 95% once growing season has come to an end.

Although it might seem odd that unseasonably warm weather would hurt the fruit, Chavez explains that, depending on their variety, peach trees need a certain number of "chill hours" while lying dormant in the winter—periods in which they rest at between 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The peaches that did manage to thrive and start to bloom, despite the months of abnormal warmth, were then subsequently damaged by atypical frosts in March. Chavez notes that in 2017, about 80% of the peach crop was similarly lost after a spring freeze, but the Pearsons say their farm hasn't been devastated this badly for decades.

"We've had some off crops, some bad years, but we hadn't had anything quite like this since 1955," Lawton Pearson, Lanier's husband, tells the Post, noting that his 1,700 acres of peach trees were only producing about 1/10th to 1/20th of what they usually do. Researchers fear that things will only get worse in Georgia, the third-largest producer of peaches in the US (behind California and South Carolina), due to the effects of climate change. "We know in Georgia that winter is the season that's warming the most quickly," UGA agricultural climatologist Pam Knox says. "It's warming about twice as fast as any of the other seasons." (More peaches stories.)

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