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Below-freezing temps impact peach crop

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Below freezing temperatures over the last few nights have had an impact on Chilton County’s peach crop.

“We have had some problems. First of all, it did not wipe us out. We still have peaches,” Jim Pitts of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System Research Center said.

Pitts said “pretty much all of those [peaches] that were out of the flower” were destroyed by the chill.

However, those peaches that were still in the bud likely will survive.

“The thing that is amazing to this is because we have not had enough chill hours, the flowers are way behind on development and that will be to our advantage … the buds still look good, but whether they chemical process is in the tree to develop remains to be seen,” Pitts said.

The lack of hours under 45 degrees this winter has put the peach trees behind the average bloom date of March 15.

Each variety of peach needs a different number of chill hours while it is in bud form to develop properly. Since the chill hours have been low, some developing peaches were still in the bud and some were out of the flower even on the same tree. Those varieties needing more chill hours are the varieties most likely to survive.

“At this point, we have enough flower buds that we still have the potential for a peach crop,” Pitts said.

On March 15, temperatures dipped to 26 overnight.

“It was predicted to be a strong inversion (warm air above the cold air closer to the ground) … The inversion did not develop as strong as predicted,” Pitts said.

Some local orchards use wind machines to draw the warm air down closer to the trees. Pitts said this could have kept the temperatures near 30 in the orchard. However, he added that winds were too strong on March 14 for these machines to be used, so some of the flowers were likely already destroyed.

Those peaches that survived may be misshaped.

“But we can’t do anything about that now. We just hope we have peaches we can pick and I think we will,” Pitts said

Pitts said next week there will be a better idea of how much of the crop survived.