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Many crops affected by weekend freezes

Local pecan producer Garland Nessmith looked over his pecan groves on Westside Road Monday and envisioned the crop that could have been, had temperatures not dipped below freezing over the past weekend.
    Last year was a disaster for pecan growers, following a record bumper crop in 2005. It looks like this year won't be a good one, either, he said.
    "The trees are not dead, but it killed the crop for this year," he said. "You can just about say 100 percent."
    Nessmith said he expects to see "more and more damage as the week goes on. Young trees are affected more than older trees."
    Nessmith has 22,000 trees in Bulloch County, and a total of 36,000 trees in all, with groves in Burke, Evans, Screven and Jenkins counties as well.
    The leaves on his young trees on Westside Road have begun turning black, and the blooms that would have made pecans are dead, he said.
    The damage to the pecan crops is scattered throughout the county,  with some spots faring better than others, he said. "Cold weather is not like a solid blanket. Some spots got colder than others," he said.
    Bulloch County Extension Agent Pat Todd said temperatures dropped lower than had been predicted last week. But he said he was surprised to hear of Nessmith's loss.
    "I'm looking at some pecan trees right now that are green as a gourd" in Register, he said Monday. But, he pointed out that while some crops may fair well in some areas, the weather was worse in others.
    Along with concerns about pecans, area farmers are casting a worried eye on corn, wheat, rye and oats, Todd said.
    "Most of the corn is not hurt at all, but some was blistered," he said. "It will take about five days to see" the extent of damage. Corn plants can lose their first leaves, then recover and produce undamaged ears, he said.
    But the county's biggest concern is early-planted wheat that had already exposed heads when the cold snap arrived.
    Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said Monday in a released statement that across the state, freezing temperatures damaged "most of the apple, peach, and blueberry crops..."
    Peach and apple crops in North Georgia were "wiped out," he said, and South Georgia peach crops may have been cut by 50 percent. The state's blueberry crop likely suffered an "80 to 90 percent" loss.
    Pecan trees in southeast Georgia that looked to be setting up for a good crop were damaged by the freeze and frost, but growers won’t know to what extent until later, Irvin said.
    Todd agreed that only time will tell how badly the freezing temperatures affected the crops.
    "Once a freeze kills tissue, it takes five days ... before you can tell whether the plant is dead or not," he said.
    But Nessmith is not optimistic about the pecan crops.
    "This was to be the year they rejuvenated," he said. After the record-breaking crop of 2005, last year's drought shriveled hopes of a repeat performance, he said. Hopes were high that this would be the year or recovery, but those hopes dropped as temperatures dipped over the weekend.
    "We will still have some pecans in spots," he said, but the 14-year-old trees in his Westside Road grove won't be producing.
    He lost crops in the other counties as well. "It seems like (the freeze) hit southeast Georgia worse than anywhere else," he said. "It will take a week for all the damage to show."
    Todd said last week the predicted cold snap was not anything to worry about, but then weather forecasters changed their tune, he said. "They predicted a low of 32 degrees, but then it was 27 degrees. That two or three degrees makes all the difference."
    But he hopes rising temperatures and possible rainfall will help revive crops stunted by the unseasonably cold temperatures.
    According to weather.yahoo.com, rain is possible today, with a 30 percent chance of showers. Chance of rain is expected to increase tonight to 60 percent, then to 70 percent Wednesday.

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