Freezes Bad Omen for Georgia Fruit Crops

Freezing temperatures throughout the state this week have caused short-term problems for farmers and long-term problems for consumers. Freezes damage fruit blossoms, which means there will be lower crop yields for fruits like peaches and blueberries going into the summer.

Blossoms are a common sign of spring, but UGA Climatologist Pam Knox says it’s a bad sign that those blossoms have appeared so early this season.

“The plants are developing almost a month ahead of normal,” said Knox.

Jerry Thomas Jr., owner of Thomas Orchard in Bishop, says the mild winter has brought customers out much earlier than usual, buying greenhouse plants from his nursery. But he hasn’t started planting outdoors just yet.

“We still got a while yet before we’ll be safe to plant stuff,” says Thomas.

That’s because mild winter turned into severe winter in just days and that translates into trouble.

The northeast saw blizzards this week but in Georgia, the effects were felt by fruit trees.

A freeze warning means that temperatures will probably drop below freezing. Knox says that for peaches and other fruits, any drop below 28 degrees can kill peach blossoms. In the short term, this has caused anxiety for farmers who are trying to protect their crops.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture says this freeze could affect other crops—like strawberries, watermelons and peppers—as well.

“[We’ve been] running wild trying to get stuff put up before the freeze,” said Thomas, who grows blueberry plants at his nursery. Georgia was number one in blueberry production in 2014, producing 96 million pounds of berries, according to the Georgia Blueberry Commission. So peaches are not the only important crop that would be effected by a late freeze.

Thomas isn’t growing peaches this year but he knows how much damaging a freeze like this can be.

“It would be devastating, I’m pretty sure its gonna be this year,” he said.

Farmers will protect their crops as best they can, but Knox says there’s not a whole lot they can do.

“Farmers are gonna have to watch and hope I think,” said Knox.

The damage to blossoms following freezes like this are not immediately obvious, but show up in the days following. The state’s blueberry crop appears to have been the most affected by the weather, according to a press released from the Georgia Department of Agriculture. The department’s first estimates say as much as 80 percent blueberries as may have been lost to the freeze.

By: Grace Holland