Researchers are in a race against time to salvage Georgia peaches as global warming worsens. The fragile fruits are synonymous with Georgia, but that relationship may end if scientists don’t find a workable solution soon. For a plant that relies on hundreds of chill hours to fruit, climate change can be devastating.
Peaches were first introduced in Georgia by a Franciscan monk in 1751. Since then, the fruit has thrived in the state, thanks to its favorable climate and soil profile. All that could change as climate change threatens its existence.
Since the 1960s, Georgia and the South overall have experienced a 5 degree Fahrenheit rise in average temperatures. With the trend expected to continue, peach farming is in danger. There are different types of peaches, but they all require some amount of chill weather to be fruitful. On average, Georgia peaches need 650 to 800 chill hours each year to fruit well. The Elberta variety, among the most popular options, requires 800 chill hours each year.
If the internal temperature of peaches is lower than 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the plant becomes dormant. Nothing can awaken a peach until it has enough chill hours. Once temperatures rise above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, sap begins to flow, allowing the plant to make fruits.
In 2017, a very warm winter led to the destruction of 85% of peaches in Georgia due to a lack of sufficient chill hours. Between 1980 and 2016, an average of 1,100 chill hours was recorded in central Georgia. However, chill hours dropped to about 600 in 2016 and 400 in 2017. These fluctuations often mean losses for farmers, a situation that may not be sustainable for the long haul.
Farmers are now in a dilemma, divided between planting varieties that only require a few chill hours or those that need more time. If they choose the former, it would be exposed to rust after bloom and lead to fruit destruction. If they choose the latter, they may fail to bloom entirely.
Scientists are working to find a solution. For now, Georgia’s agriculture sector remains busy, given its favorable soil and climate. Further, global warming has been slower in southern states than in western ones.
Via Dave’s Garden
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