What may be winter’s last gasp – an icy blast of below-freezing temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday nights – may have a harmful impact on fruit crops in Georgia, experts said.
"The temperatures (Tuesday) night and those forecasted (Wednesday night) could easily equate to hundreds of millions of dollar in consequences for many of our fruit and vegetable farmers,” said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. “The early spring that we have been experiencing the last few weeks has led to early blooming of our peach crop and unfortunately the freezing temperatures killed any open flowers and possibly compromised emerging buds.”
Blueberry farmers fared a bit better Tuesday “with temperatures hovering right about freezing and a light wind in those producing areas,” he said, but the jury was out on what Wednesday night’s freeze would do to the blueberry crop.
Bulloch County Extension Agent Bill Tyson said if the breeze continued over Wednesday night, it would decrease chances of frost and help the fruit trees, but he still had concerns over the already-budding trees.
“We are well ahead of where we normally would be” regarding development of peach and blueberry blooms, due to an unusually early bout of warm weather in February. This means the freeze will likely damage blooms and cause potential crop loss.
As far as strawberries go, plants are already producing and if farmers water them during the freezing weather, the coating of ice could actually protect them, he said
The length of time fruit trees and plants are exposed to freezing temperatures determines the level of damage. If the thermometer drops below freezing around midnight and stays that cold until morning, the damage will be more severe than if the temperatures only remain below freezing for a few hours, he said.
As far as other crops, Bulloch County doesn’t have a lot of worries, as no one planted Vidalia onions in Bulloch County this year, according to Tyson.
Row crops haven’t yet been planted, and if a resident is worried about early-planted potatoes, onions or other plants, they can be covered overnight, he said.
However, Black said Vidalia onion growers elsewhere in the region could suffer damage from Wednesday’s freeze.
“Our Vidalia onion growers also escaped any major damage so far “ as of Tuesday, but Wednesday “night will be the true test as any frost damage to the tops could be an unwelcome pathway for plant diseases, he said.
The weather may even affect honey production and pollenation of future spring crops, he added.
“As we keep all of our farmers in harm’s way in our thoughts and prayers, we certainly cannot forget the unsung hero of our blooming crops, the honeybee. Any damage to the flowers of the crops will ultimately disrupt the cycle of the honeybee, which is so crucial to our produce industry."
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.