Cold should not harm crops

Published 10:45 pm Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Chilton County peach growers are not too worried about the cold temperatures in this week’s forecast. For some, it’s just what they want.

“Right now, that’s what we want — cold weather,” said local grower Hal Hayes.

While single-digit temperatures could result in the loss of a few buds, Hayes admitted, the real concern would be if temperatures were warmer.

In 1996, when virtually the entire crop was lost, temperatures ranged from 65 to 19 in the winter months, which proved to be devastating. When there is increased metabolic activity in cells due to warmer weather, that’s when peach buds are more vulnerable to the cold.

But, fortunately, not this time.

“We expect orchards to tolerate the cold without damage,” said Horticulturalist Bobby Boozer of the Chilton Research and Extension Center. “I think we’re in really good shape to ride out this cold front moving through.”

Peaches have to spend a certain amount of chill hours each winter, or hours in near-freezing or freezing temperatures. About 585 hours have been accumulated thus far, Boozer estimated, approximately 15 more than this time last year.

The goal is to accumulate 1,150 chill hours by mid-February, slightly more than what most varieties require.

“The reason we like more is because leaf buds typically require a little more chilling than the flower buds,” Boozer said.

Strawberry growers have to be more cautious of the cold. Crops are typically covered with a cloth-like material, which can raise the temperature by 10 to 15 degrees.

“Strawberries could be in a little trouble,” Hayes said, specifically referring to late-planted crops whose roots have not fully formed.

Other preparations include draining irrigation lines, adding antifreeze to pumps and machinery, and placing crops inside shelters.

“Individuals with fruit trees they are going to set out should keep the roots moist and keep the trees in a shelter at above-freezing temperatures,” Boozer said.