The freezing temperatures that settled over most of Georgia on Easter weekend severely damaged the peach and blueberry crops and hurt many more. University of Georgia agricultural specialists say they may not know its effects completely until later in the year.
About 90 percent of Georgia's 15,000 acres of peaches grow in central Georgia, where temperatures dipped into the mid to upper 20s. This was enough to hurt the pea- to nickle-sized fruit, says Kathy Taylor, a university Cooperative Extension peach specialist. Of the crop there, 45 percent remains in good condition. In south Georgia, 60 percent of the crop is in good shape.
"The peach crop was going to be fabulous up until this weekend," Taylor says.
Like the peach farmers, blueberry farmers were expecting a great year, says Gerard Krewer, university Extension blueberry specialist. But not anymore.
Georgia farmers grow the Southern highbush and rabbiteye blueberry varieties. Farmers will start picking the Southern highbush later this month and in May. This early crop will be good.
But the variety accounts for only 15 percent of the estimated 8,000 blueberry acres. The rest is the later-maturing rabbiteye variety, which was severely damaged by the freeze.
"This is the worst freeze I have seen on blueberries," Krewer says.
Georgia's corn crop will have some minor damage but will be fine, says Dewey Lee, university Extension corn specialist. Farmers wanted to cash in on high demand and prices for the crop and planted 100 percent more this year than last.
Pecan trees leaf out in mid spring and aren't typically damaged by freezing temperatures. But orchards in east Georgia were severely damaged, says Lenny Wells, university Extension pecan specialist.
Anywhere temperatures reached 28 degrees or below, there was likely damage. Temperatures in southwest Georgia, the hub of production, dipped slightly below freezing in a few places.
It's too early to know how this freeze will affect harvest in fall, he says.
Farmers have planted more than half the expected 30,000 acres of watermelons. Early assessments indicate the crop may have dodged a bullet and will be OK, says George Boyhan, university Extension vegetable specialist.
"But I think there may still be a price to pay on the watermelons with delayed harvest and perhaps reduced yield," Boyhan says. "We'll have to wait and see."
The freeze didn't hurt vegetable crops like broccoli and leafy greens. "They're used to that kind of temperatures," says Terry Kelley, university Extension vegetable specialist.
But farmers had already planted most of the warm-season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and snap beans. These crops don't do well in cold weather. There are isolated fields with damage, but he says overall, the warm-season vegetables will be all right.
"The stuff that was transplanted last week probably took a licking, but the stuff that had been in the ground for awhile probably fared OK," Kelley says.
Farmers have already started harvesting the first of Georgia's sweet Vidalia onion crop, says Reid Torrence, university Extension coordinator in Tattnall County, where half of the crop is grown.
Most dug onions were collected before the freeze. Farmers postponed digging, leaving the rest in the ground for protection. "I'd be surprised if we end up with any damage to the onion crop," Torrence says.