Warmer weather confusing state's peach crop - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Warmer weather confusing state's peach crop

JOHNSTON, SC (WIS) -

With temperatures nearing 80 degrees in South Carolina, orchards aren't exactly what peach farmers want to see in January. They want to see the buds to remain tight because they still need several chill hours.

"A chill hour is something below 45 degrees," said peach farmer Sonny Yonce. "A lot of people think it has to be freezing, and it doesn't."

Right now, most orchards don't have the needed chill hours in yet, keeping buds tight, while workers prune in short sleeves.

"They're in bed so to speak, they haven't moved," said Yonce.

A dip in temperatures as the week continues should keep them that way. Most varieties need between 800 and a 1,000 chill hours before they'll open.

"As these things get the required chill hours, they will start puffing up, like popcorn and then they'll start blooming and then the little leaves emerge," said Yonce.

An early start could wipe out an entire crop if there's frost in April.

"I've had fruit the size of golf balls that was frozen solid," said Yonce.

Farmers are watching these winter weather spikes carefully noticing changes, not for the better. Areas of Spartanburg that once had orchards because of warmer temperatures, have been sold for other uses.  Weather the last two years in the ridge region have produced earlier crops.

"Our growing season is changing," said Yonce.

An early crop isn't bad if "Mother Nature" is kind. It puts South Carolina ahead of California in marketing and on even keel with Georgia. However, if Mother Nature is feeling frosty in April, it can have devastating consequences.

Copyright 2013 WIS. All rights reserved.

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