Plentiful peach crop possible in South Carolina this year

Peach buds are just starting to appear in York County. Last year these trees in Fort Mill were in full bloom by early February.
Peach buds are just starting to appear in York County. Last year these trees in Fort Mill were in full bloom by early February. Herald File Photo

South Carolina could have a plentiful crop of spring peaches if there is no severe weather for the next month, say York County growers.

A wind-borne frost last April killed much of the York County peach crop, said Bob Hall, owner of Bush-n-Vine in York. And cold weather or a late frost has affected peaches regionally for the last three years.

“It’s time for the region to have a good peach crop,” said Jeb Wilson with Cotton Hill Farms in Chester County.

Late February and early March is the time peach buds start to come out locally, said York County growers. Ben Smith, owner of the Peach Stand in York saw his first buds Thursday.

Growers say the combination of a reasonable winter with sufficient rain has helped the crop, but they say it’s too early to predict the size of the crop.

“We have a long way to go before we can say we’ll have a bumper crop,” said Arthur Black, owner of Black’s Peaches. “But things are looking good.”

The peach buds will be the most fragile for about the next month, Hall said.

About the only thing farmers can do now is to spray fungicide on the buds to protect them, Black said. Growers started spraying last week and will do the same next week.

Other growers are completing peach tree pruning, an operation that used to be done in December. But the season for pruning has been moved because a later pruning helps the trees and could increase the number of peaches, according to fruit researchers.

Wilson predicts it will be about a week before the peach trees are in full bloom.

Clemson University extension agent Andy Rollins said it has been warmer and wetter than usual in recent months. Rollins said peach trees need between 800 and 1,000 hours of temperatures below 45 degrees during the winter for good crop. Many areas received just about 1,000 hours.

“We still were able to get in all of our chilling hours,” Rollins said in a prepared release. “This year could be one of the best years ever for our peach crop.”

Jeff Hopkins, manager of Clemson’s Musser Fruit Research Farm, said there’s been enough cold for a potentially strong crop.

“We wound up with 1,000 (hours) on the nose, and we’re good with that,” Hopkins said.

Peach growers across the state were concerned at the end of December because most orchards had received only about 250 chill hours. That’s about half the amount normally received by the end of December. But colder weather in February helped.

The number of chill hours also affect when peaches are ready.

In the unusually cold winter of 2014-15 more than 1,600 chill hours were measured at the research farm. That meant an earlier-than-normal crop. In the same way, this year’s milder weather could translate into a later crop.

South Carolina produced about 70,000 tons of peaches last year, second in the nation to California.

The Associated Press contributed