Peach Crop Threatened from Low Chill Hours, Drought

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Alabama peach producers are seeing low yields from this year’s crop, thanks to few chill hours, drought conditions and a late frost.

The Alabama Farmers Federation’s Mac Higginbotham said the state’s peach crop faced a culmination of factors leading to below-average production.

“We’ve had a bad peach crop because of rocky weather,” said Higginbotham, the Federation’s Horticulture Division director. “Last summer’s drought set us back, so we went into fall not in great shape. Then, low chill hours combined with a late frost just added too much stress on the trees.”

In a recent press release, Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Edgar Vinson said trees receiving a low number of chill hours — or hours when temperatures were below 45 degrees — played a huge role in reduced production.

“The chill hours we received this year were among the lowest on record,” said Vinson, a fruit specialist. “At least 800 to 850 chill hours are preferred to satisfy the chill hour requirement of most of the peach varieties, and the requirement for many of those varieties was not met. This caused delayed, sporadic blooming or no blooming at all, which was frequently the case.”

Leaf budding and expansion was also reduced, causing concern for tree survival, said Vinson.

In 2015, Alabama peach orchards produced 11 million pounds of peaches and generated $6,182,000 from about 1,500 acres. In 2016, production decreased to 7 million pounds, and this year’s growers estimate Alabama lost about 75 percent of its crop.

“It’s hard to say what numbers this year will look like,” said Higginbotham, who is also Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association executive director. “But if you want peaches, now is time to start looking as you pass local markets, because they won’t last long.”

According to a recent study by Auburn University’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, the fruit, vegetable and tree nut industries have a $161.5 million impact on Alabama. Those industries provide more than 1,100 jobs and produce over $2 million in indirect business taxes.

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