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How drought has affected Jaemors peach crop
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Lucky 13 peaches hang from the trees Saturday at Jaemor Farms in Alto. - photo by Erin O. Smith

THE BLITZ: Heritage at Gainesville

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ALTO — The farmers at Jaemor Farms know quality peaches.

And they should, for the past century they have spent every season perfecting the art of growing the perfect Georgia peach.

On the 140 acres of peach trees, every year Jaemor produces more than a million pounds of peaches that are snapped up by people from across Northeast Georgia and beyond.  

Elyce and Bruce Crocker of Southwest Englewood, Fla., are two avid fans of Jaemor and its peaches. Over the past 20 years they have usually made a yearly trip through Alto to bring home a few pounds of fresh peaches. They have even had Jaemor ship them peaches on years when they couldn’t make the trip.

“It cost me an arm and a leg, but I did it anyway,” Elyce said with a laugh.

“If we can get a good peach in Florida, we are lucky,” Bruce added.

According to Drew Echols, Jaemor farm manager, one of the things that makes the peaches so memorable is the dry climate that is common to the summer months in Northeast Georgia.

He explained that dry weather gives their peaches a longer shelf life and adds to the flavor.

“They aren’t watered down, with a more concentrated flavor,” Echols said.

But the dry weather can be a double-edged sword.

Nearly all of Northeast Georgia was in severe to extreme drought as of June 30, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Echols estimates that Jaemor has seen less than a full inch of rain in the past few months.

“You want an inch a week, but it’s been a long time since we have had that,” Echols said.

He said the drought has taken almost a full inch off the size of the peaches in the current crop. This cut in size lowers the overall yield for the season.

He said another worrying factor to consider is how early the drought is beginning this year.

“Typically we don’t see this kind of dry weather until the end of July, August or September,” Echols said, “If it does stay dry, (the peach crop) won’t catch up till September.”

Each of the trees on the farm is irrigated by its own misting or drip sprayer. Together the peach trees use around 29,000 gallons of water per week. And Echols said that amount of water is just enough to keep the trees alive.

“There is no way to put an inch a week on the peaches with drip irrigation. So we are just trying to sustain the life of the tree,” he said.

Even with the dry weather, Echols has a lot of hope for the peach crop this year, calling it “one of the best we have ever had.”

He said the farm is in a much better position than a year ago when a late frost knocked the peach crop back to 10 percent of its normal yield.

This, he said, is a hazard of being a farmer.

“That’s farming, ultimately it’s a gamble,” Echols said.

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