Wednesday morning cold could cause problems for peaches

Published 4:41 pm Monday, March 24, 2014

Predicted freezing temperatures Tuesday night into Wednesday morning could damage Chilton County’s peach crop.

Gary Goggins with the National Weather Service in Calera said Monday that temperatures could drop below freezing from midnight to 9 a.m. Wednesday.

“It’s looking pretty definite now that we’re going to have these freezing temperatures happen,” Goggins said. “We’ve been really thinking about those [Chilton County farmers]. We’re trying to nail it down so we can give them as much accurate information as we can.

“The good news is we’ll have full sunshine through the day on Wednesday, so the temperatures will warm up pretty quickly.”

The coldest temperatures Wednesday morning should range from 28 to 30 degrees, Goggins said.

Though such temperatures can damage peaches in their early stages, Jim Pitts with the Chilton Research and Extension Center said farmers shouldn’t panic.

A similar “late-season” freeze last year resulted in some damage but turned out to be beneficial for farmers, Pitts said. Farmers “thin” peach trees by knocking off some early-stage fruit, ensuring that the remaining fruit can have the nutrients necessary to grow large.

Last year’s late freeze served to thin the trees for the farmers.

“The forecast we’ve got right now, we’ll probably come through OK,” Pitts said.

Still, some farmers are taking precautions, especially those who suffered losses last year.

At least one farmer will employ a helicopter to keep air circulating in the orchard during the coldest hours, Pitts said. Others will burn brush fires in the corners of their orchards from which wind will blow. Thus, the wind blows warm air through the orchards.

Most of Chilton County’s peach crop is in a “wet shuck” stage, meaning petals have fallen off but a green, moist shuck remains to help protect the fruit.

More advanced varieties could be in a “dry shuck” stage, with the shuck in the process of pushing off, and thus more vulnerable.

“It’s just going to be site-specific in a lot of cases,” Pitts said.

Working in the peaches favor will be the strong winds forecasted for Wednesday morning.

As the cold front moves in on Tuesday, sustained winds are forecasted for 20 to 25 miles per hour, with gusts up to 35 miles per hour.

The “normal” low temperature for Clanton on March 26 is 44 degrees, Goggins said.

Temperatures will climb as the cold front exits, reaching the mid-60s on Thursday and near 70 on Friday.

Low temperatures expected for Thursday could dip into the upper-30s but should not reach freezing.

There’s a slight chance for showers Tuesday morning, but a much more significant chance for precipitation is expected for Friday morning.