From cold snaps to drenching rains, the past few months have presented more than a few challenges for Jaemor Farms in Lula.
“It’s been a roller coaster if there’s ever been one,” said Drew Echols, farm manager at the longtime peach grower off Ga. 365.
But he’s thankful, especially as he hopes to salvage about 70 percent of this year’s peach crop for the peak summer season.
“You shoot for 100 percent, of course, but I’ve never been more proud of a 70 percent crop,” he said Monday. “It could be worse. Matter of fact, we thought it would be worse.”
Coming on the heels of one of the warmest winters on record, freezing temperatures in mid-March looked to affect about half the peach crop, said Jarl Echols, Jaemor co-owner, at the time.
“We have a lot of rough mornings this time of year, but maybe we’ve got a good crop of peaches to look forward to,” he added.
Now, with harvesting starting the first week of June, “I expect really good-sized peaches, because they did get thinned out so much in that frost,” Drew Echols said.
“People are going to get to buy big, pretty peaches this year, for sure. I don’t think we’re going to have small peaches.”
For Jaemor, peach season really gets going in mid-July.
That’s when customers can buy “the juiciest, best-tasting peaches we grow,” Drew Echols said.
While peaches can’t withstand too much frost, fruit trees require a certain number of hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit to break down growth inhibitors in buds, which allow them to produce fruit in the spring, states a University of Georgia Agricultural & Environmental Services press release.
In that March report, extension agent Jeff Cook said Georgia’s peach crop might suffer this year due to insufficient chill hours.
“One of the things we’ve kind of prided ourselves on is the fact that we do have these cooler nights … during production,” Drew Echols said. “Cooler temperatures slow down ripening and enhance the size and flavor of the peach. The slower they ripen, the better off they are.”
Peaches are Jaemor’s mainstay, but the farm has diversified over the years, growing strawberries, blackberries, muscadines, scuppernongs, concord grapes, watermelons, squash, tomatoes, zucchini and pumpkins. A fig crop was added this season.
Jaemor lost a lot of strawberries during the freezes, Drew Echols said.
“But they were blooming early and setting fruit early,” he said. “Typically, they wouldn’t have been on the plant at that time. Those berries would have been extras.”
Still, strawberry production began picking up before it got hit again — this time by wet weather.
“Strawberries just don’t tolerate rain,” Drew Echols said. “About 1 ½ inches per week is about all I can handle. We can’t handle 3 and 4 inches a week, so we’ve been struggling the past two weeks.”
However, none of the weather issues are new to Jaemor.
“We’ve been there, done that,” Drew Echols said. “You just muddle through it. A farmer told me a long time ago, ‘When things aren’t going well, keep on doing the right thing because the weather is going to straighten out.’”