2023 local peach crop to be severely reduced for this reason

Jun. 1—The peaches you buy at your local farmers market this year might not be so local.

The fruit will be in shorter supply this season thanks to an unusually warm winter and a several-day freeze in March, peach farmers say.

Drew Echols, co-owner and manager of Jaemor Farms, says he'll be lucky to harvest half as many peaches this year — from 20,000 bushels down to an estimated 8,000. He said he hasn't seen a peach shortage this severe since 2007.

"I don't think we're going to have enough (peaches) for our store," Echols said. "And that's a little scary because the crop in middle Georgia, it sucks, too. Peaches are going to be short pretty much all over the southeast."

If you bought a peach at Jaemor's market in Alto on Tuesday, that peach came from a farm in middle Georgia.

Echols said February was unusually warm, which caused peaches to bloom early and made them vulnerable to a several-day frost in mid-March.

"What really really hurt us the worst in this whole thing was that it warmed up so much in February that these things were blooming and they were ahead of schedule," he said.

He said peach season lasts from the end of May until Labor Day.

Peaches typically need 500 to 800 "chill hours" to enter dormancy before bearing fruit in the spring.

Temperatures in Georgia have risen 0.8 degrees since the beginning of the 20th century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Scientists blame climate change for Georgia's warmer winters, but Hall County extension agent Garrett Hibbs said there isn't enough data to connect a single event, namely the cold snap in March, to climate change.

"I don't put a whole lot of faith in climate change," Echols said when asked if climate change might be to blame for the peach shortage. "We were losing peach crops in the '80s to freezes."

Dustin Poole, owner of Twin Oak Farm, has been selling peaches at the Flowery Branch Farmers Market for the past four years, but he said the frost in March wiped out his entire crop.

"I'm not going to have any peaches this year," he said.

Hall County Farmers Market board member and treasurer Chris Arrington said they may not have any peaches, either.

"I saw him earlier this year," she said of her peach vendor. "I told him I saved him a spot, but he said he (doesn't) think that he'll probably have peaches this year."

Echols said he stands to lose about $1.5 million this season, and his crop insurance will only cover about 10%.

He's been growing other fruits — pumpkins, strawberries, watermelons, tomatoes — to try to make up for some of the loss.

But as the old saying goes, he said, "There's no money like peach money."