If you’re having a hard time finding South Carolina peaches this season, you’re not alone. The state’s early season crop is about 50 percent of what it normally is for this time of year, thanks to this year’s unseasonably warm winter, and late freeze in mid-March, according to experts.
The weather pattern meant that trees bloomed early and then were ravaged by a late season freeze.
“The problem was that the ones that need very low amount of cold bloomed earlier, and so they were in a more advanced stage by mid-March, which was when the freeze hit us,” said Juan Carlos Melgar, Assistant Professor of Pomology (fruit cultivation) at Clemson University.
“Cold temperatures are not a problem during winter, we need that cold,” he said. “What is not good is when we have a warm fall or warm winter because then flowering is irregular, fruit set is poor.”
The last time this sort of weather pattern hit was in 2007 when we experienced the “Easter Freeze,” Melgar said, when temperatures dipped into the 30s on Easter. But that year, farmers lost nearly 100 percent of both early and late crop production.
This year, Melgar anticipates nearly normal production levels for late season peaches, which run July through early September.
“Starting in mid-July, there is a lot more in the field,” Melgar said. “So very bad at the beginning and, a lot better towards the end.”
The deepest losses are in the area between Columbia and Augusta, where the warm weather caused peaches to bloom even earlier. Some farms in that area lost 100 percent of their early crops, Melgar said.
The Upstate will feel the impact as well, though perhaps not as hard. Because of the varied elevation, the weather pattern had a varied effect, causing great losses for some and minimal losses for others.
With just a 20 percent crop loss, Fishers Orchards is one of “the fortunate ones,” said Mark Fisher, a fourth generation farmer, who co-owns the Greer farm with his father and brother in law. At Fisher, the greatest impact is on the wholesale supply. The limited crop is mainly going to retail outlets like their two stores in Greer, and through some roadside stands.
It will likely be hard to find South Carolina peaches in grocery stores for the time being.
“Right now, whatever is in the field is in the roadside markets, and it’s just not going to be in the supermarkets,” Melgar explained. “If it is, it will be more expensive because there are less, and there will be more peaches from California.”