Irrigation is used in a peach orchard on the UGA Griffin campus. Experts say peach trees need plenty of water, even when the crop is out of season.

GRIFFIN — A drought that has spanned multiple months has University of Georgia peach specialist Dario Chavez concerned that peach trees in Georgia may suffer from lack of water.

Even during the fall, mature peach trees need approximately 15 gallons of water per tree every day. Younger trees need about two-thirds of that amount. As fall moves into winter, those water requirements will decrease.

Though Georgia has received some rain over the past couple of weeks, 103 counties in the state were declared at Level 1 drought response, according to UGA Agricultural Climatologist Pam Knox.

“Although the fruit is far gone from the peach trees right now, trees are still growing. If we don’t have water available, we’re not keeping the trees and their fruiting wood in optimal conditions, and this is what produces the fruit for next year,” said Chavez, who is based on the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences campus in Griffin. “Although we focus mostly on the fruit when it’s available on the tree, we have to focus on the tree health overall, too.”

Chavez said he believes it’s easy, once peach season ends in early August, to forget about irrigating peach trees during the off-season. If irrigation in the orchards is not managed properly, it could impact the peach crop the following year.

“One of the main factors with tree health is the availability of water for the tree,” he said. “That’s why I try to remind the growers that, although we don’t have fruit available, we still need to water because those trees have a water requirement.”

Chavez said that if the trees don’t have sufficient water, they will quickly show signs of stress that can affect the fruiting wood and fruit development.

According to georgiaweather.net, UGA’s automated weather network, the drought was especially impactful on areas of the state where the bulk of peach production occurs. In Fort Valley, located in middle Georgia, only 3.9 inches of rain and 11 rainy days were recorded between Aug. 10 and Oct. 10. This is down considerably from the 7.92 inches and 20 rainy days registered during the same time period in 2018. According to the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, peach production netted $8.8 million in farm gate value in 2016 in Peach County.

In Gainesville, located in the north-central part of the state, only 1.9 inches of rainfall and eight rainy days were recorded during the same timeframe. Peach production in the area netted $490,000 in farm gate value in 2016.

For more information about Georgia’s peach crop, see t.uga.edu/5m7.

Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.

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