Peach crop looking good

FORT VALLEY -- Georgia peach growers are confident of a good crop this year, experts say, even with the warm weather the state has had with the better part of winter already gone.

Most Georgia peach varieties require at least 750 "chill hours" during winter dormancy to yield the best crop, said Frank Funderburk, area agent for peaches, Georgia extension service.

"Obviously, we haven't had all the cold we've wanted where peaches are concerned," Funderburk said, "but the forecast is for colder weather over the next few days. We'll be just fine."

According to Funderburk, peaches and many other fruits enter a dormancy period each fall. As a required chilling time is met, dormancy becomes irreversible and will be unaffected by short-term warm temperature peaks. Not enough chill hours and fruit can appear sporadically and smaller in size and number.

Bobby Lane, a grower near Fort Valley -- the heart of Georgia peach country -- says he feels good about the season. Most of his fruit requires only 750 chill hours, defined as one hour at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and has received almost enough cold already. With the outlook for lower temperatures, he feels good about his crop's prospects.

"The 750-(hour) peaches are fine, I know," Lane said. "A few of (the peaches) need 850 hours and I'm a little more concerned about them."

Lane said that even if cold weather fails to arrive, there is still an option available to him and other growers. As a last resort, the trees would be sprayed with Dormex, or hydrogen cyanamide, a chemical application to help make up for the lack of chill time.

Funderburk agrees that Dormex is a viable option should it be required, though one he'd rather not see exercised. Beyond the cost of the chemical and its application, Dormex brings with it certain risks.

"Hydrogen cyanamide must be applied correctly or some of the crop could be lost," Funderburk said. "Doing it at just the right time is the most important thing. Leaving the buds as long as possible is best, but there's the risk of them being killed by new cold."

Funderburk said that bud samples are taken in the orchards, cut apart and examined to determine the proper time for spraying.

"Personally, I don't believe we'll need the Dormex and all our peaches will just fine without it," Funderburk said. "Georgia has never missed a peach crop and we'll have a good one this year. It may be the best we've ever had."