Overnight Freezing Temps Could Mean Disaster For Chilton Co. Peach Crop

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By Amanda Wade

Tonight could be devastating for peach growers in Chilton County with temperatures expected to dip to near freezing, but they are getting ready so that prices and supplies are not threatened when you buy peaches this year.

Farmers in Chilton County are stocking up on fire wood and getting helicopters ready to save this year's peach crop from dangerously low temperatures. The owners of Mountain View Orchards say this could be the latest freeze they have seen in years, "The last say 10 years, with the exception of last year we got hurt, but for about 10 years before that it was pretty mild, and no late freezes and pretty well full crop," says co-owner of Mountain View Orchards, Steve Wilson.

For business owners who depend on the county's crop, this late freeze could delay their sales, "It's already harmed our sales because we usually start with peaches at the first or second week of May, and that's not going to happen until later. Probably late May now, maybe even the first of June," says Peach Park owner, Mark Gray.

Farmers say after losing 20% of two varieties of peaches this season from an earlier freeze this month, which put them in good shape for the rest of growing season, a second freeze overnight could put the season in danger, "A little concerned on some of the early varieties of the fruit. As you saw, the peach that I was cutting the size of it is pretty vulnerable at this stage in the development that we need to protect the crop. So we'll be flying helicopters tonight, and if we have enough time to get it done, we'll be burning piles of wood in our orchard just to keep heat in the orchard," says Andy Millard, another co-owner of Mountain View Orchards.

The farmers say using the helicopters will keep heat closer to the ground and save the peaches from freezing, but they say renting a helicopter can cost a farmer anywhere from $600 to $1,800 an hour.

Other farmers say a freeze at the beginning of April wiped out 90% of their crop, and they are hoping this freeze does not demolish the rest of their peaches.

The owners of Peach Park say the price for a basket of peaches could cost up to a dollar more early in the season, but they expect the prices to go back down as more crop becomes available in June.