A mid-March freeze decimated the Carolina peach crop. Some growers expect to have limited supplies in July or August, but several growers say they lost more than 70% to 75% of the crop. ( Titan Farms )

There will be peaches coming out of the Carolinas this year — just not as many as there might have been.

A mid-March freeze took care of that.

“We don’t have much,” said Tommy Chappell, co-owner of Chappell Farms in Barnwell, S.C. “There will be some peaches, a little bit in June, but that’s about it.”

Temperatures dipped to as cold as 19 degrees during the nighttime hours between March 15-16, according to South Carolina agriculture officials.

Chappell, who has about 800 acres of peach orchards, estimated he lost 65% to 70% of his crop this year.

Freezing temperatures killed off blossoming early varieties, and later varieties didn’t get enough chill hours, Chappell said.

“It was kind of a double whammy,” he said.

Chappell said he will have some midseason fruit but not much else.

“It’s one of those years,” he said. “I hope the buyers don’t give up on us.”

As it turns out, Chappell is relatively lucky, by statewide standards. The freeze, which followed a relatively mild February that had coaxed out some early blossoms, likely will cost South Carolina 80% to 85% of its peach crop this year, said Matt Cornwell, marketing specialist with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.

“We think we will see some fruit come July-August but are not sure on quality or quantity at this point,” Cornwell said April 27. “Most of the larger commercial growers I’ve spoken with don’t plan on even opening a pack house.”

North Carolina won’t fare much better, said Brad Thompson, extension agent with North Carolina State University in Montgomery County, where most of the state’s peaches are grown.

The crop’s outlook for 2017 is “grim. It’s not good,” Thompson said.

In the immediate aftermath of the freeze, some growers hoped their fruit would survive.

Those hopes slowly sank, though, Thompson said.

“Probably a week after that major freeze, some of the growers using wind machines were still optimistic. There was still 30% to 35% of the crop still on the trees, but as time went by, the percentage got lower and lower,” he said. “Now, there’s maybe 10% to 15% left.”

There will be peaches this year in North Carolina, but there will be occasional lulls during the season, Thompson said.

“Might have peaches for a week and a half and then hardly any, and then the following week, it will pick back up again,” he said.

Early-season fruit is all but out of the question, Thompson said.

“Our peach season can run, on a good year, from around the end of May or first of June to the end of September (or) first of October. This year, we’re not going to see that at all,” Thompson said. “Our season may start in mid-June, at the earliest, because most varieties that would be ready toward the end of May, they’re all gone.”

That means the earliest commercial volumes won’t start flowing until mid-June, Thompson said.

Barbara Johnson and her husband, Garrett, have been operating Johnson’s Peaches in Candor, N.C., in Montgomery County, for more than 60 years. They’ve seen years in which entire crops were wiped out.

This year isn’t as dire, but it’s “really, really bad,” Barbara Johnson said.

“It froze in the bloom stage, most of them,” she said.

The Johnsons used wind machines and burned hay over four nights to defend against temperatures that plunged as low as 24 degrees, she said.

“It just got too cold for peaches to survive,” she said.

The only survivors were varieties that had not yet bloomed, she said.

Johnson estimated they might have 25% to 30% of a normal crop this year.

“We will sell in small quantities. I don’t think we’ll have any by the load at any time,” she said.

Thompson said the Johnsons likely are a good gauge for other growers in the state.

“Barbara and Garrett probably have the most peaches in the county — maybe the state — both typically and this year,” Thompson said. “If they have a bad crop, everyone else will not have as many either.”

 
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