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Peach chill hours way ahead of ’07

Conditions are close to ideal for the Chilton County peach crop, Superintendent Jim Pitts of the Chilton Research and Extension Center reported.

The crop has received 77 chill hours as of late Friday, more than seven times the 10 hours received by this time last year.

Farmers traditionally start counting chill hours the first of October and finish up in mid-February. The target number is 1,000 for most varieties.

“We don’t want to get a whole lot of chilling early. We like it to built up gradually,” Pitts said.

While the crop is not in danger yet, the main concern with too many chill hours too quickly is early blooming. For the past two seasons, the problem has been the opposite – not getting enough.

If there is any concern with early blooming, a growth regulator can help prevent it. Some growers may consider using it on certain varieties, in certain situations. The regulator delays blooming in the spring.

“It sort of tricks that tree and makes it think it needs more chilling,” Pitts said.

One negative side effect of using growth regulator is that it can affect fruit size, and for this reason growers are cautious about using it. As far as the abnormally dry conditions, Pitts expressed little worry because of increased precipitation over the summer.

Rainfall during the summer months kept the top of the ground wet, and that benefited the crop considering that most tree roots are found within a foot of the ground’s surface, Pitts explained.

“We’ve been a bit dry, but I don’t think there’s been any problem with it,” he said. “Everything from the outside looking in looks fine.”