LULA — The current run of cold weather is welcomed by farmer Jimmy Echols. The same wasn’t true when Old Man Winter sent an unexpected blast on Easter weekend of 2007.
"I’m an eternal optimist," Echols said. "I wouldn’t be in farming if I weren’t."
Right now, peaches are getting much-needed chill hours, rendering the new growth dormant. Peaches need an average of 1,000 hours with temperatures below 40 degrees.
The orchards of peach trees now display new growth, which is a reddish-brown color. That new growth holds the crop’s future for 2008.
"It’s always exciting to me to see the start of a new crop," Echols said. "Right now, we are 12 weeks away from blooming. After that, we’ll have peaches in 10 weeks."
But Echols explains that the growing season for his 2008 crop actually began last July.
"The flowering for this year’s crop started then and will be a year old when the peaches are harvested," he said.
The sudden cold snap last year came on the heels of an unusually warm spell in March and became the death knell for the peach crop at Echols’ Jaemor Farms.
"That was a very erratic spell of weather," Echols said.
"It was an Arctic blast coming down a month later than we normally would have one. If our stage of development had not been three weeks early, we would have survived that."
The Echols family, which includes Jimmy Echols’ children and grandchildren, grows about 30 varieties of peaches on the 250 acre farm, which also includes a large apple crop.
"We’re continually testing new varieties, planting 50 to 100 trees," Echols said. "You have to try them out on your farm, because what works 100 miles from here might not work here."
The typical productive life of a peach tree is around 20 years. The oldest Echols can remember is one that lasted 52 years.
"The peak production is from 6 to 12 years," he said. "The trees start a gradual decline, due to broken limbs. The older the trees, the less they’re able to recover."
Echols said that as trees get older, the flavor and quality does not decline, only the yield.
According to data from the University of Georgia, the state produced 129 million pounds of peaches in 2006, with a farm gate value of $60.5 million.
While Georgia has long been called "The Peach State," it is actually third in the nation in peach production. California is the top producer of peaches, followed by South Carolina.