Winterlike temperatures that blew through the area over the weekend are creating challenges for local farmers, some of whom fear up to half their peach crop may be lost to the unseasonable cold.
The National Weather Service put the upper part of South Carolina under a freeze warning between midnight and 11 a.m. Sunday. Temperatures dropped into the 20s overnight, creating conditions that were closer to the norm for January than late March.
“Very cold temperatures will kill sensitive vegetation that has already started to grow this season,” warned an AccuWeather alert issued Saturday.
After surveying his orchard Sunday morning, Arthur Black said the cold snap had a devastating effect on Black’s Peaches along S.C. 5, west of York.
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“The ones that had bloomed out, it pretty much killed it,” Black said. “I lost over half of (the crop).”
Ben Smith estimated a similar rate of loss at the Peach Tree on Filbert Highway. But because he has yet to trim his peach trees this season, he was hopeful the apparent damage to the heart of the peach crop would be superficial.
“I lost some peaches,” he said, “but I still have to go thin them out. … I don’t think it will be too bad.”
Black hoped the many peaches that have yet to blossom had some insulation against the cold, but it may be some time before the full effects of the freeze become apparent.
The cold snap was the result of a strong cold front that moved through the mountains and the Piedmont region and northeastern Georgia over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg. The front comes after a week in which temperatures reached the 70s and ahead of a week forecast with similarly warm temperatures.
For growers, these kinds of spring freezes can be an occupational hazard.
“I’ve seen them killed off on the last (day) of April,” Smith said.
In situations when freezing temperatures coincide with the start of the spring growing season, farmers are limited in what they can do.
“I don’t have a wind machine,” Black said, “There’s not a whole lot I can do to raise the temperature.”
Ron Edwards, general manager at Springs Farm in Fort Mill, hopes to have beaten the worst of the freeze by working overnight Saturday warming the peaches and running water over the strawberry crop to prevent a freeze from setting in.
“It got coldest just before dawn, so I don’t think it got cold long enough before the sun started shining on them,” Edwards said before finally going to bed Sunday morning. “I’ll have to check on them again tomorrow.”
But for Black, the result of the weekend freeze may be straightforward.
“I just won’t have as many peaches,” he said.