GFB News Magazine

Georgia peach crop decimated by March freeze

Posted on August 17, 2023 12:00 AM





By Jay Stone, Georgia Farm Bureau

Georgia’s 2023 peach crop was reduced by as much as 98% after a March freeze followed a warmer-than-normal winter. The loss prompted a secretarial disaster declaration from the USDA.

The warm winter weather prompted peach trees to bloom early, leaving the buds exposed to freezing temperatures that occurred between March 11 and March 23.

Jeff Cook, Extension coordinator for Peach and Taylor counties, initially estimated 75% crop loss for commercial peach growers but increased that to 98% crop loss after continued monitoring showed more extensive damage across all varieties and across all peach-producing areas of Georgia.

He noted that with a sales price of 85 cents per pound, the crop loss alone cost the growers an estimated $119.5 million. UGA Extension Economist Sharon Kane estimated the economic impact loss at $71 million, taking into account that the smaller crop means sharply reduced numbers of employees earning and spending money in local communities.

According to Cook, the combined losses – farm gate value from the crop loss and community economic impact loss – is an estimated $190 million.

“Georgia’s peach growers were hit especially hard by this year’s freeze that effectively negates an entire year of preparation and wipes out all of the investment they had made in producing a crop,” said Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Executive Director Chris Butts. “We must continue to work to keep Georgia growers on a level playing field while helping mitigate risks that can not only ruin a crop but cause tremendous financial loss as well.”

UGA Plant Pathologist Phillip Brannen pointed out that despite the lost crop, the trees still have to be maintained without the benefit of revenue generated by the crop.

“I’ve been here 23 years, and this would have to be as bad as I’ve seen,” said Brannen. “We’ve had some other freezes in the past that were pretty devastating. We have had grave difficulty just to get 32 peaches out of multiple trees to have enough for a research trial. That just tells you there’s no peaches on these trees.”

In a June 27 letter to peach stakeholders, Cook noted that most varieties of peaches broke dormancy and began to bloom in mid-February after unseasonably warm winter temperatures. By mid-March, most peach varieties in Georgia were at 90% of full bloom. Then on the nights of March 14, 15, 16, 20 and 21, Middle Georgia temperatures dropped below freezing for several hours, and on March 22 much of the area experienced frost conditions.