Warmer winters are making it more difficult to grow the state’s traditional peaches and blueberries. Satsuma mandarin oranges are a new experimental crop for Georgia farmers.
Summer is the time to enjoy fresh, delicious peaches from Georgia. But winter weather is key to a good harvest.
Peach trees need a period of cold to bloom well and produce abundant fruit. The same is true of blueberries.
“We call it needing chill hours – a certain number of hours below 45 degrees. … And so that’s been a real concern because the last few winters, we have not had a lot of chill hours. And so that’s been a real problem,” says Pam Knox, an agricultural climatologist at the University of Georgia and director of the University of Georgia Weather Network.
She says that as Georgia’s winters get warmer, blueberry bushes and peach trees sometimes bloom too soon in the spring. When that happens, a sudden late cold snap can kill the buds or flowers.
So some Georgia farmers are trying different crops. “I work with farmers now that are growing citrus crops in Georgia like satsumas,” Knox says. And she says some are even experimenting with olives – a crop traditionally grown in the Mediterranean or on the West Coast.
“And so they can take advantage of the warming temperatures to plant some crops that they haven’t before,” she says.
So as the climate changes, Knox sees both risks and opportunities for Georgia farmers.