Biting into a fresh, juicy Carolina peach may be a rare experience this summer. Last week’s sudden freezing temperatures, which hit just after an unusually warm February sent peach trees into bloom early, has dealt a serious blow to one of South Carolina’s primary crops.
The S.C. Department of Agriculture reports that the state probably lost 85 to 90 percent of its peach crop. The Midland and South Carolina is the largest peach-producing state on the East Coast, second only to California. Its peach crop usually is worth about $90 million, with a $300 million impact on local economies, including 1,500 jobs.
That would be the heaviest loss in 10 years, since a devastating late freeze in 2007.
Blueberries grown in the Midland and Upstate area of South Carolina also were hit hard, with losses expected to be about the same as peaches.
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“It’s not looking good right now,” said Bob Hall of Bush N Vine Farm in York. There may be later-season varieties available in August, but he expects they’ll lose about 90 percent of their crop. The total loss won’t be known for another week, when they can see how many blooms are left.
On the bright side, he said, strawberries mostly made it through and are already setting fruit. Strawberries are easier to protect from cold and they also bloom again through the spring. He says the strawberry season will start earlier than it ever has, probably in just a few weeks, and he thinks they’ll have strawberries until June this year. They also will have other produce at their farm stands through the summer.
At Black’s Peaches in York, they do expect to have a few more peaches. While they lost 80 percent of their crop, a woman at the farm stand said that a new batch of trees planted in 2014, which will yield fruit for the first time this year, actually made it through the freeze.
In North Carolina, peach crop losses haven’t yet been reported, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture. Mostly, apples in the mountains apparently weren’t badly damaged. Strawberry damage was spotty because the crop was ahead of schedule. Winter wheat also may be damaged. But it will still be a few days before the extent of loss is known.
At the Pee Dee Orchards farm stand on U.S. 74 near Ellerbe, a popular stop for beachgoers from the Charlotte area, owner Chesley Green said he thinks he lost about 80 percent of his peach crop. He kept trees warm on Wednesday night, when the temperature plunged to 22 degrees, and didn’t have much damage. But the next night, when warmer temperatures were expected, it still hit 26 degrees and he lost most of his crop.