This summer, as a mix of long-term climate trends and a spate of bad weather added up to an almost entire loss of the Georgian peach crop. First, the climate: Peach trees need what growers call chill hours, or time in which unopened blossoms are in sub-45-degree temperatures, before they can make fruit. But data from the University of Georgia Extension Service describes how chill hours have been on a steady decline for at least 80 years.
Even so, natural fluctuations in that trend still meant there were around 800 or so chill hours this year, just on the line of what is adequate, if not ideal, for some peach varieties grown in the state.
But then came the weather. In effect, a warm winter, saw a warm February as the trees were trying to come out of hibernation. The unseasonable warmth in February hastened the blossoms' development, leaving them vulnerable to what came next: an extreme snap of cold in March.