Meriwether County peach, strawberry crops hit by late season freeze

MERIWETHER COUNTY, Ga — We may now be enjoying warmer temperatures as we speed into spring, but Georgia farmers are still feeling the freeze of last week’s sharp drop in temperatures.  The steep temperature drop confused early blooming fruit plants and cost Georgia farmers some major yields.

Meriwether County is Georgia’s fifth largest peach producing county. News 3 visited with Fitzgerald Fruit Farms to find out more about the impact of last week’s tremendous temperature drops on fruit crops.

“We all know in Georgia, March can be rough a month in terms of weather. It can go up and down, and this year, this past week it was pretty brutal. We had basically a week of freezing or below freezing temperatures,” says Sean Lennon, owner of Fitzgerald Fruit Farms.

That week of lows was enough to severely setback the strawberry crops at Fitzgerald Fruit Farms in Meriwether County.

“In 22 plus acres of strawberries, we had to go across the field and pick all the berries off and just throw them away in the woods. I estimate we dumped probably 15 to 20 thousand pounds of berries that were ruined because of the cold weather,” says Lennon.

Lennon did harvest one patch of strawberries on Monday. Those berries were saved because row covers shielded them from the icy temperatures.

For those who took losses on strawberries, many of the plants can re-bloom and go on to produce fruit this season as the temperatures warm.  But for early variety peaches, it’s a different story.

“On the peaches,” says Lennon, “it’s a one time deal. The May peaches seem to have taken it worst and early June. It’s not a total loss, but it’s a significant loss.”

For early blooming peach trees that felt last week’s freeze, most of the blooms were lost. It will be another year before they can re-bloom and produce peaches.

“Last year was a little bad because we didn’t have enough chill hours for good production of peaches, so this is sort of a double whammy,” says Susan James, UGA Ag and Natural Resources Agent for Meriwether County.

But farmers are used to the perils Mother Nature throws their way.

“I think most farmers are fully aware of the fact that weather is something we cannot control. They learn to adapt, adjust, and move forward,” says James.

Ag experts recommend that farmers invest in a variety of fruit crops– those that bloom mid and late season, not just early. That way, when a late freeze strikes, they are still able to produce some yields later in the season.

Also, this week is National Ag Awareness Week. We asked Meriwether County’s UGA Ag and Natural Resources Agent about its significance.

 

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