Danelle Cutting: Harsh cold puts peach yield in peril

Published 12:38 pm Friday, May 1, 2015

By Danelle Cutting

For the Salisbury Post

This year, there will definitely be a shortage of North Carolina peaches and possibly even South Carolina peaches. Earlier this year when trees were in full bloom, we received a debilitating freeze. Many orchards that I keep in contact with have stated they have had a 70 percent to 100 percent loss of peaches for the 2015 growing season. This does not mean that we will not have peaches, but it does mean that some of the varieties may not be available; we will not have many of the earlier varieties showing up at the local markets.

I have visited some of the orchards in the county to see how things are faring; some have an excellent crop and received little to no damage, and some have a total crop loss. Elevation and different areas of the county can play a huge role in the weather. One side of the county received a crushing 20°F, while the other side did not go lower than 25°F. This is a tricky situation for peach growers. Some frosts help thin the trees so that the growers do not have to spend a lot of money on labor to thin them, and too much frost can kill the blooms. The freeze that we had will also cause issues for other crops and plants. The Cooperative Extension office even had a Redbud receive some dieback due to the freeze.

Many readers may recall the article I wrote on the broccoli that was saved from the freeze and may ask why the peach growers did not use irrigation to provide a protective ice cover? What my previous article did not address was the expense of applying the water or the fact that we have not seen enough research to prove that the water works on fruit trees. So, what is a peach grower to do? For many large operators, they use a wind machine to mix the air so that the frost cannot settle on the trees. This only works to a certain degree and is not full proof; just like all machines, they can have problems working. The machines also come with a hefty price, some costing more than $35,000 for each location (price not including electricity, gas, or concrete pad).

Many of the growers try to reduce the risk of losing their crops by planting peach varieties that require higher chilling hours, such as Contender and China Pearl, both requiring over 1,000 chilling hours, so that their blooms will occur after most of the damaging frosts. However, it all depends on the weather, and if the temperature is too cold for a long period of time. It can still cause damage, so nothing is 100 percent effective.

The point of this is to be thankful for what we have and to try and understand that growing and providing food for our nourishment is a tough job and a gamble. Some people do not realize how much farmers do gamble; some years, it’s like they’ve won the lottery, while other years, the loan sharks are after them.

If you would like more information on buying local, becoming a farm steward, or about the topics mentioned in this article, call your local Cooperative Extension Agent, Danelle Cutting, at 704-216-8970.

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