Georgia fruit weathers freezes, heavy rainfall

05/15/2009 12:49:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

Surviving early spring freezing temperatures, torrential rains, flooding, high winds and tornados, growers of Georgia-grown peaches, melons and blueberries were poised to start another spring season.

Harvesting of blueberries normally starts in mid- to late April while the state’s signature peach crop begins packing in mid-May, with cantaloupe pickings expected to begin in late May. Growers begin watermelon harvesting in mid-June.

Peaches comeback

Rebounding after two successive below-average production years, Georgia peach packers this spring look forward to a more typical production year.

Spring freezes took out nearly all of their crops in 2007 and more than half of their crops last season.

“It’s been three years since we have had a decent crop,” said Al Pearson Jr., president and managing partner of Pearson Farm, Fort Valley, Ga. “This year, we have an adequate crop set. It’s not a real big thinning job, but we have to thin all of the trees, which tells me we should have a decent crop of fruit. I think we as a state are going to be a good and dependable supplier.”

Pearson in late April said he didn’t see much disease and that everything appeared to be on track for a May 15 normal start.

Heavier than normal spring rains should also help the crop’s sizings, said Duke Lane III, vice president of sales with the Fort Valley-based Lane Southern Orchards.

“This season’s sizings should be really good,” he said in late April. “The amount of dormant chill hours we have had, which was tremendous, will serve us well with overall quality. It’s going to be a good year with good eating and large volumes of Southern peaches.”

Though the severe weather may have harmed some isolated trees by causing burning, Lane said the threatening weather didn’t appear to have harmed his trees.

Last season, prices opened at $18-22 for early fruit, and then declined as the season moved on, Lane said. He said prices normally start in that range.

Lane said he expects to pack close to 700,000 25-pound cartons this season, up from the 150,000 cartons it packed last year.

Georgia, the third-largest fresh-producing peach state, normally packs 3.2 million cartons, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Watermelon

Battling rainy weather, Georgia grower-shippers in late April were finishing watermelon plantings.

An April 9 freeze scared growers, as the soaked fields prevented them from entering their fields to spray to protect their plants from freeze damage. The temperatures, however, didn’t fall low enough to cause damage, said Greg Leger, president and partner in Leger & Son Inc., Cordele, Ga.


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