Frost nips Georgia’s apple crop, peaches OK

The Wednesday morning frost is expected to cut into Georgia's apple crop this year. CONTRIBUTED: PENLAND’S APPLE HOUSE
The Wednesday morning frost is expected to cut into Georgia's apple crop this year. CONTRIBUTED: PENLAND’S APPLE HOUSE

Temperatures dipped to 27 degrees early Wednesday on Barry Pritchett’s 12 acres of apple trees outside of Ellijay in the Georgia mountains.

And just like that, what had been a reason for optimism at Red Apple Barn orchard turned into liability.

“We had probably the heaviest bloom we ever had this year,” Pritchett said.

But, as any orchard owner knows, blooms are a long way from a profitable harvest.

The dip in temperatures that covered the state hit apple growers pretty hard — some orchard owners recorded 26 degrees. There were also concerns about blueberry and strawberry crops in North Georgia, though Georgia’s famous peach crop farther south withstood the weather better.

Apple growers said it will be several days before the extent of the damage from the cold weather is known. At Hillside Orchard Farms in Gilmer County, Robert Mitcham said that, after looking over his trees, he “felt like it took them out.”

The temperature drop also filled other growers with anxiety. Strawberry farmers scrambled to put their green and red rows under frost blankets, and several reported they were open for business Wednesday.

Covering blueberry bushes is more difficult, which left Bill Durden of Cherokee County’s Berrypatch Farm exposed.

It isn’t looking good for that crop this year, he said. He has his pumpkin and Christmas tree operations to lean on later in the year.

Prichett does not expect a total loss of apples.

“Hopefully, we will have enough for the you-pick business,” he said.

Apples are a minor Georgia crop, with growers having sold around $10 million worth, according to 2017 statistics from the University of Georgia, the most recent available. But the business inspires a lot of agri-tourism. Highways passing by orchards can be packed during the fall as tourists swing by for apples, cider and entertainment.

Ellijay plans to restart its Apple Festival this October after it took a coronavirus hiatus in 2020.

Farther south, Georgia’s peach growers were also kept up by the cold snap and were relieved when the sun came up

“Everything down here looked pretty good,” University of Georgia peach agent Jeff Cook said from Peach and Taylor counties, south of Macon.

Lee Dickey of Dickey Farms, located west of Macon, said the thermometer dipped to 35 degrees, but no further. His strawberries are bearing heavily, and he’ll start picking early peaches in about three weeks, he said.

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