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Spring delivers deadly sting

Crops are at risk from winter’s latest charge

POSTED: April 7, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Spring's deadly sting

Drew Echols of Jaemor Farm Market talks about his concerns for his peach crop.

TOM REED/The Times

Drew Echols checks the buds on a peach tree at Jaemor Farms. The buds are at a stage that they could be damaged by a freeze.

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In 2008, the weather was nearly perfect and the family owned enterprise had one of its best quality harvests ever.

It’s a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows that the young East Hall farmer could do without.

“You work so hard all winter trying to make sure everything is right,” said Drew Echols. “Then, you can lose it in one day or overnight and it makes it hard.”

The trees in the orchard are at various stages of growth. Some still have pink peach blossoms, which Echols says will protect them an extra degree or two on the thermometer.

Others have already produced buds and are starting to take shape as a young peach. Still others are somewhere in between.

Echols’ hands are stained with oil and grease as he and his father, Jarl, have been working to check the V-8 engines on the six oscillating wind turbines that can generate a three to five miles per hour gust of wind across the orchard.

The big engines have an affinity for unleaded gasoline and can use 10 gallons or more each hour they run. But, if they can save the crop, it will be worth the price.

The Echols are the third owner of the machines. They were first used for citrus crops in Florida and then for peaches in North Carolina. Echols said they have never saved a crop at Jaemor, but this may be the year.

Drew Echols has a lingering memory of what happened two years ago and has a tarp to cover the lone peach tree in the front yard of his home on the farm.

“We will have at least some peaches,” he said as he adjusted his wrap-around sunglasses and maneuvered his pickup truck through the orchard.

A National Weather Service forecaster said Monday that the agency was sticking with its prediction that Old Man Winter could pay a springtime visit to North Georgia in the form of snow flurries, although mixed with rain in lower elevations

Rob Handel, a meteorologist with the weather service in Peachtree City, said the winds would diminish any chance of accumulation, except in the higher elevations of the North Georgia mountains.

But, Handel said the coldest weather would be tonight. The agency has already issued a freeze warning for Northeast Georgia with temperatures in Gainesville expected to be around 30.

The winds are expected to continue, but not as briskly as Monday.

Wind is good news, according to Hall County Extension Agent Billy Skaggs.

“If the wind continues, we’re going to be in better shape,” Skaggs said. He said persons who purchased plants this weekend from a nursery or garden center should keep them indoors and wait until next week to plant them.

He said that persons with newly planted annuals can cover them with a sheet or a plastic tarp, but should be careful that the cover devise does not weigh down on the plants.

Skaggs said he is worried about the peach crop, as well.

“If it gets below 30 degrees, it will be a problem,” he said adding that vegetable gardeners may not fare well. “If you planted tomatoes or squash to get ahead, you may be in trouble.”

The weather service said the last time it snowed this late in the year was April 10, 1990.



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