The move allows the USDA’s Farm Service Agency to offer emergency loans to affected farmers who need it. The deadline to apply for assistance is February 26, 2024.
“I’m grateful to USDA Secretary Vilsack for recognizing the importance of delivering much-needed relief to Georgia farmers following the untimely freezes in March,” Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper said in a statement.
While the freezes dealt a death blow to many farmers’ crops, it was an exceptionally hot winter — one of the warmest on record in Georgia — that set the stage for the devastation. Abnormally warm temperatures across the state caused peaches to develop weeks earlier than normal, making the crop vulnerable to freeze damage. The cold temperatures hit while many trees were in bloom or had already set fruit.
January through March was the hottest such period on record in Georgia, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Temperatures statewide averaged 56.4 degrees, more than 6 degrees warmer than the 20th-century norm.
Georgia is no longer the country’s top peach producer — that title now belongs to California — but the fruit still holds icon status in the Peach State.
This year’s freeze isn’t the first disaster that fruit growers have endured in recent years.
Around 80% of Georgia’s peaches were destroyed by a freeze in 2017. The state’s blueberries have also been nipped by late winter and early spring cold snaps, including one in March 2022 that caused heavy damage on many farms.
Scientists say human-caused climate change is making the state’s winters warmer and contributing to wild temperature swings.
More recently, Georgia’s cotton crop was damaged by high winds and hail, but growers are optimistic that their plants will recuperate in time for harvest later this year.
A note of disclosure
This coverage is supported by a partnership with 1Earth Fund, the Kendeda Fund and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at https://www.ajc.com/donate/climate/