The fluctuating weather this winter could cause the area to have another peach-less season.
The contrast between freezing and summer-like days this winter hasn't hurt the county's peach crops -- yet -- but colder temperatures are needed to ensure its success, said Andy Rollins, an Upstate peach specialist with the Clemson Extension Service.
"Peaches are weather dependent," Rollins said. "Most of the peaches are going to need cold weather now."
Last year, the peach crop was destroyed by an April freeze believed to be the worst in 11 years. Farmers said the record-level freeze was even more devastating because warm spells had drawn out even late-season peaches.
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They're hoping this year isn't a repeat, said Filbert farmer Ben Smith. The weather's not a factor now, but he's afraid continual warm days could cause his peach crop to bloom early.
"The late freeze last year bombarded us, and it knocked us down," Smith said." Peaches are a gamble, but so far, the crops are doing well."
Last April, Smith lost his peaches from about 7,500 trees after a weekend of 20-degree weather that devastated orchards across the Upstate.
York County historically ranks in the top 10 in South Carolina in peach production. South Carolina is the nation's second-largest peach producer, behind California.
"Hopefully, we don't have another year like last year," Rollins said. "As long as we don't have that spring freeze, we should have a good year."
Peaches need the temperature to drop below 45 degrees for about 1,000 hours to mature, Smith said. He guesses they have about half that so far.
Clemson Extension Service Agricultural Agent Joe Guthrie doesn't foresee weather changes during the next few weeks to cause problems for the peach crops.
"It's too early for the weather to have any kind of effect now," Guthrie said. "They're in a dormant state now. When the buds start swelling, in a month or so, we could have problems."
The persisting drought hasn't had much effect on the crops, although Rollins said they're going to need more water long-term.
Last year was the third-driest year for the region. The area got 28.61 inches in 2007 and ended the year with a 14.79-inch rainfall deficit.
Rollins said while the warm days are not helping, lack of water could become the bigger problem down the road.
"Peaches are susceptible," Rollins said. "They'll bloom early with warm weather, and that's when we have to start worrying about the cold."
2 South Carolina's rank among states in fresh peach production and interstate shipments
30 to 40 varieties of peaches grown in South Carolina
300+ years peaches have been growing in the state
18,000 acres of peach farms in the state
$40 million peach industry's gross income in South Carolina
200 million peaches harvested in the state in a normal year
Source: South Carolina Department of Agriculture