By Doug Ohlemeier

The Packer

Georgia grower-shippers are examining their crops for damage the day after two weekend early spring freezes struck key growing regions.

Initial damage estimates remained inconclusive for most vegetables and peaches on April 9, growers reported.

Southern Georgia's blueberry production, however, suffered extensive losses, shippers say.

Temperatures fell as low as 24 degrees during the early morning hours of April 8 in the southeastern and south-central parts of the state.

Two freezes struck growers, one on the morning of April 7 with a second on April 8. Because of higher winds during the April 7 freeze kept temperatures from settling, most of the damage hit on the morning of April 8, says Charles Hall, executive director of the La Grange-based Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association.

Most of Georgia's commercial fruit and vegetables are grown in the southern half of the state. In Valdosta, Ga., temperatures dropped to 31 to 32 degrees.

Hall says county Cooperative Extension agents were out surveying fields with growers on April 9.

"Damage will vary," he says. "It depends on if it got cloudy. Growers will have had a little bit of insulation over the land."

The low temperatures caused a 60 percent to 70 percent loss to the region's blueberries, says Keith Mixon, president of Winter Haven, Fla.-based Sunnyridge Farm Inc., which has growing operations in Baxley, Ga., and Homerville, Ga.

"Everyone's out in the fields trying to see if there's anything to be saved," he says.

Before the freeze, Georgia was expected to produce a 25-million pound crop. The cold snap, however, is estimated to cut that crop down to 10 million, Mixon says.

Cucumbers, bell peppers and peaches were also damaged, growers report.

Joey Johnson, sales manager for Oconee River Produce in Mount Vernon, Ga., says one of his growers lost all of his 12 acres of crookneck squash. He says losses remain uncertain.

The state's Vidalia onion crop, grown in the state's central region, however, survived, Johnson says.

"They are fine," he says. "They can handle the cold weather."

Damage to peaches, grown in the west-central region, was undetermined as of April 9.

"We received some damage, but it?s too early to really put a percentage on it," says Duke Lane III, vice president of sales at Lane Packing Co. in Fort Valley, Ga. "Some blocks have some pretty severe damage, while others don?t have any damage."

Lane says he could not speculate on how much the cold hurt the peaches.

Shay Kennedy, co-owner, vice president and sales manager of Georgia Vegetable Co. Inc. in Tifton, Ga., says it would take another day before growers know for sure.

"We definitely had some frost around the area," she says. "It sure affected the cucumbers and squash more than anything."

Kennedy says she thinks the Americus, Ga., growing region, known for its green bean production, suffered more damage than growing areas in the southern part of the state.

The Packer is a sister publication of The Grower.