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Hot December puts Georgia's fruit growers on edge

Drew Kann, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Business News

Dickey said that in Musella — where his family has grown peaches since the 1890s — the peach trees in his fields have only gotten about one-third of the chill hours they require. He says there’s still time to catch up, but they’ll need a cold January and February to do it.

“If we don’t get enough cold during the winter, the blossoms won’t develop and the peaches just really won’t make it on the trees,” Dickey said.

Though experts projected that Georgia would likely have a warmer than average winter, it is in keeping with longer term global warming trends. In the U.S., winters are warming faster than any other season due to climate change, according to a recent analysis by the nonprofit organization Climate Central.

“Even though there’s still a lot of year-to-year variation, it is very clear that the warming that we’re seeing in all seasons is caused by the effects of human-induced climate change,” said Pam Knox, an agricultural climatologist at the University of Georgia and the director of the university’s weather network.

Damage to these crops would be harmful to Georgia’s rural agricultural economy. Rankings vary from year to year, but lately Georgia has been among the top three blueberry-producing states in the country. In 2019, Georgia’s blueberry crop was worth more than $220 million, making it one of the state’s most valuable agricultural commodities. Georgia’s peach crop was worth an estimated $72 million that same year, according to report from the University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development.

 

“Those fruit producers, it’s their one crop of the year, so if they don’t get a good crop, they have to wait until next year,” Knox said.

For now, Cornelius said he’ll just hope that any deep freezes spare his farm.

“Between now and Easter, we may not drop below 31 degrees (Fahrenheit) and we’ll be fine. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

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