Georgia Peach Council president Duke Lane told Fresh Fruit Portal a mild winter had led to much of the crop entering the flowering stage earlier than previous years when the unusual freezing temperatures hit in mid-March.
Temperatures are said to have dipped as low as around 24°F (-4°C) over two nights in the state.
“We had some inclement weather with a really mild winter then a freeze event in the spring, and the combination of those two factors created the shortest peach crop in 35 years,” he said.
Lane described the severity and timing of the frosts as “unprecedented” in the state, and estimated around 80% of the crop had been lost.
On a typical year Georgia may produce around 75 million pounds of the stonefruit. It is the third-largest peach-growing state in behind California and neighboring South Carolina.
The harvest has all but wrapped up, with small quantities of fruit being picked during the remaining days of June.
He noted earlier varieties had on the whole been more heavily affected than others.
“But even in the late varieties, there was a lot of vulnerable and exposed fruit,” he said.
Around 98% of commercial peach farms are based in a 40-mile area in Central Georgia, Lane added. But he said that as this covered in excess of 10,000 acres, it was hard to have a cost-effective method of frost protection.
One silver lining of the lower production levels, however, was the higher prices growers were able to fetch for their fruit.
“We’ve certainly had a tremendous amount of demand for the fruit that we’ve had so that has fetched better prices. That’s absolutely compensated a bit,” he said.
He added the industry was used to unexpected adverse weather events, and believed “everyone’s pretty confident that the future’s bright.”
The blueberry crop also took a significant hit from the frosts. Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association executive director Charles Hall at the time anticipated losses could be in the region of 50-75%.
All together the loss in both crops could mean a US$300 million hit to the state’s farmers, although nearly 80 percent of that comes from blueberries, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in late May.
“We do get questions each year about when can I find a Georgia peach in a local grocery store, and this year it appears we may get fewer of those questions, according to my peach growers,” he was quoted as saying.
In March the South Carolina Department of Agriculture put out a statement saying farmers were “hopeful to have ten to fifteen percent of their usual crop.”