Alabama peach producers are expecting to salvage 30-50 percent of their crop this year after a late-season cold snap sent the mercury plunging on the morning of March 31.Bobby Boozer, a horticulturist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said the freeze hurt some farmers more than others.”Based on the visits we’ve had with growers, the damage ranges from as little as 10 percent to as high as 75 percent,” Boozer said. “Topography, elevation and the location of each particular orchard had a lot to do with how cold it got during the freeze event.”In Chilton County, Boozer said farmers reported low temperatures of between 23 and 32 degrees, with some areas staying below freezing for four to six hours. Chilton County Farmers Federation Board Member Jimmy Durbin, who has more than 500 acres of peaches, said it would be a few weeks before he knows the extent of the damage on his farm.”We are not out of peaches, but we got hit pretty hard,” Durbin said. “The crop needed some thinning, but in some places, it got thinned too much. We are still in the peach business, but the crop is not 100 percent.””I would say that we are probably looking at 30 to 50 percent of a normal crop,” Boozer said. “We’ve still got more time before we’ll know what some of the marginal damage will look like. It may be the latter part of this month before we see how many (peaches) fall off or stop growing,” reported Boozer in early April.Boozer said Chilton County’s plums and nectarines fared about as well as the peach crop. Strawberries that were protected from the freeze by sprinklers and row covers received less damage. Boozer said the staff of the Chilton Research and Extension Center is investigating alternative crops to help growers hit hardest by the freeze.Ironically, peach growers in the northern part of the state reported only mild to moderate damage as a result of the cold snap. Morgan County Extension Agent Mike Reeves, whose family operates a peach orchard near Hartselle, said growers in his area could have close to a full crop of peaches, depending on location and variety.”We were lucky because we were a little later in our bloom,” Reeves said. “Chilton County was probably beginning to lose the shuck (around the young peaches). So even though it didn’t get as cold there as it did here, their peaches were very susceptible to freeze at that stage.”Surveying the damage in one of his family’s orchards, Reeves said the blooms were so dense on the trees this year they could have lost close to 90 percent of the young peaches and still would have been in good shape.”If we don’t have to thin, this could be a blessing in disguise,” Reeves said.
Cold Snap Thins Peach Crop