Georgia’s peach crop decimated by poor weather and warming climate – HONEYCOMB

Summer is upon us, and in Georgia, summer means peaches.

But University of Georgia gardeners say about 90% of the Peach State’s crops have been destroyed by poor weather and a warming climate.

According to Lawton Pearson of Pearson Farm in Fort Valley, Georgia, the last time things were this bad was in 1955.

“I did not see it. I wasn’t alive,” says Pearson. “My father was only six. My grandfather picked two peaches and they went to California for the summer.”

Peaches require a minimum number of refrigeration hours, below 45 degrees, to bear fruit. But the first three months of this year were the warmest on record in Georgia, and cool hours here have been declining over the years. This is due to climate change.

“We know the winters are getting warmer,” Pam Knox, an agricultural climatologist at UGA, told WABE last year. “And there is no explanation other than human-caused global warming.”

Breeders are experimenting with new strains that require fewer chilling hours. Some of these strains got the chill they needed this year. But just as they bloomed, an unfortunate frost snap destroyed the buds.

“This winter you had a low chill peach that was perfectly fine,” says Pearson. “It flowered and then was under 28 for four nights [degrees]. You can’t win either way.”

Dario Chavez, an associate professor of horticulture at UGA who specializes in peaches, says that between 85 and 95 percent of the state’s peach harvest has been lost.

So don’t expect to fall into a Peach State peach anytime soon.

“No Georgia peaches,” says Pearson. “I don’t think you see Georgia peaches in the grocery store.”

Pearson’s summer staff will be reduced to 40 from the usual 250. He cannot retire to California for a vacation like his grandfather did in 1955. The business has since diversified, growing pecans, among other things.

But Pearson says the sight of trees without peaches is painful.

A glimpse of hope? The few peaches that are made from it benefit from having sun, water and nutrients to themselves.

“The peaches that are left are amazing, huge and sweet,” says Pearson. “It makes you want more.”

Pearson says he’s ready for August when the peach season is over and he can look forward to next year.