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Warm temperatures may cause Ga.s peaches to bloom early
Entire crop could be lost to a late freeze
Drew Echols of Jaemor Farms inspects a peach in one of the farm’s orchards Tuesday afternoon.

This year's warmer winter could cause Georgia's peach growers some anxiety if peach crops bloom early.

Colder temperatures, typically below 45 degrees, keep peach blossoms dormant.

Normally, peaches won't begin blooming until temperatures rise in the spring. But warmer temperatures could cause peaches to bloom early this year, which puts them in danger of being killed off in a late freeze.

"I think everybody is a little worried because all (peach crops) are running two to three weeks ahead of schedule, as far as blooming," Drew Echols, farm manager at Jaemor Farms in Alto, said.

Echols said that it's still too early to tell if the warmer weather will have any impact of the peach crops this year.

"Right now our peaches are still kind of tight," Echols said.

Once the peach buds open, or "popcorn," it will be about a week before they are in full bloom.

"In full bloom is when you're most susceptible to a late freeze," Echols explained.

He said he is still optimistic about this year's crop because cooler temperatures are expected to move in this weekend. The cold weather should help the peaches stay dormant longer so they avoid the danger of a freeze.

Echols said there have been years where the entire crop was lost because of a late freeze. But losing a few isn't always a bad thing.

"There are some occasions where there is a partial loss where you may loose 25 to 30 percent of blooms, that's not always a bad thing. It helps to thin them out," Echols said.

"But I would rather have all than worry about them getting frozen out."

There are a few things farmers can do to protect their crops.

Echols said they use fans to circulate the air in the orchard. But they only use the fans when the peaches are in full bloom, which is still at least three weeks away.

If the weather in the coming days is cool enough and stays cool enough to keep the peaches dormant, Echols said they could end up actually being behind schedule.

In a worst-case scenario, in which a hard freeze kills off some or all of the peaches, Echols said the farm would supplement its crop with peaches from other farms in southern and central Georgia.

Farms in more southern regions tend to have more consistent temperatures and are less likely to have a hard freeze after the peaches are in full bloom.

"Each region has its own challenges and we certainly have ours," said Duke Lane, vice president of sales at Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley, Ga.

Lane said crops are running a little behind but he too is still optimistic that coming cold fronts will protect their crops.

"Could the situation be a little bit better? Certainly so. But is it time to hit the panic button? No," Lane said.

Last year Jaemor Farms harvested about 16,000 bushels of peaches. The harvesting season typically begins in May and continues through August.