Right at a month ago, South Carolina’s primary peach production region, known as ‘the ridge’ was hit with two nights of hard freeze after trees had begun blooming. Originally, the crop loss estimate was 85%, Greg Henderson, member of the horticultural team with Clemson Extension in Edgefield County, says it may not be quite that bad, but not much better:
“Well, our early indications were that things were that bad or worse. I think, what we have seen post event, that there has been some surprising survivability on certain blocks, so temperature variability can be, I wouldn’t say extreme, but perhaps marginally enough, to where we had some warmer temperatures that helped some fruitlets survive, where others may have not.
In terms of the overall crop, I’m going to say 80% loss, I think that’s what the industry accepts. It’s been talked about enough where that number may hold to be very true and very real.”
The freeze was actually a compound event explains Henderson:
“New territory that we’re dealing with; two events, unprecedented warm temperatures, we bloomed at least 30 days prior to normal bud break. So, we knew there was a long time to hold this fruit risk-free from a cold event. Unfortunately, ten days after…really less than that, really about a week after bloom, we got into 25 degrees, then we were down to 23, then we hit 19. Nineteen is pretty much sure 100% wipeout.”
And, there may be quality issues with the fruit that does make it to maturity says Henderson:
“We saw last year what the effect of marginal chilling can do maturing fruit. You can have from a commercial standpoint, from a pack market, I’d say a terminal market, markets that we rely on for our commercial harvest, you can have pronounced tips, that tip can be soft, that tip can be damaged during the packing and harvesting, storage and anything that bruises. That really affects whether we can put that peach in box and ship it. Uneven ripening, again there are a lot of physiological codes that have to be punched while that tree is dormant and receiving it’s chilling hours, more so than just breaking dormancy and blooming, is what we think and see is the biggest effect.”
With that being said, Henderson says the first South Carolina peaches available this year will likely be Scarlet Prince around July 4th.
While last year wasn’t a great peach production year for the Palmetto State, this year’s issues are being compared to 2007:
“In 2007 was the Easter freeze, we still shipped some fruit. I’d say this is at least as bad, if not worse. When we compound the uncertainty of the low chilling, and how this fruit is going to move that we’re seeing. If this fruit that we’re seeing doesn’t continue to move and grow, then that 80%is going to increase. It’s heart wrenching to watch and try to figure it out more so than to make a crop, or have a crop set, like we did in 2007 and then have the freeze hit and have that effect on it.”
Henderson says that most of the available South Carolina peaches this year will be in the local fresh markets, roadside stands, and the like.