MACON, Ga. (AP) — Middle Georgia peach growers are expecting a bumper crop this summer, though the start of peach season will be slow.
Peach growers got plenty of beneficial "chill hours" this winter for the first time in three years, The Telegraph reported .
That means that growers have emerged from the spring freeze threat with their crop largely intact.
A couple of freezes in early March killed a large portion of the early varieties that were already blooming, said Jeff Cook, the county agent for Peach and Taylor counties.
However, the rest of the crop that wasn't blooming during the freezes is in good shape, Cook said.
Cook estimated about a 20 percent overall crop loss from the freezes — far better than the 80 percent loss in last year's crop.
"We are way better off than we were last year," Cook said. "We will have a pile more peaches than we had last year. Everybody is optimistic."
That will mean hundreds of jobs this summer for migrant workers, which affects local businesses — and likely lower prices on peaches for consumers, the Macon newspaper reported.
With one more week of cold weather in February, growers could have been looking at a full crop, Cook said.
Temperatures had been low most of the winter, running up about 950 chill hours, or hours below 45 degrees. That was enough for all varieties.
But it started to warm in February, and that caused an early bloom. If cold weather had continued a bit longer, the bloom would have held off and the early varieties would have survived the freezing temperatures.
The first peaches will be harvested around mid-May as usual, but that will be a light crop until about June, with July and August looking especially good.
"Overall, we've got a good crop," said Robert Dickey, owner of Dickey Farms in Crawford County. "We will have a bumper crop in July and August."
In a good year, the peach crop in Georgia is worth about $50 million, Cook said.
Peach, Crawford, Taylor, Macon and Meriwether counties account for about 90 percent of Georgia's crop.