Unseasonable Winter Weather Takes A Bite Out Of Georgia's Peach Crop : The Salt It may be hard to enjoy a Georgia peach, if you don't live in the state. A warm winter, followed by a March freeze wiped out most of this year's crop, and what's left may not leave the state.

Unseasonable Winter Weather Takes A Bite Out Of Georgia's Peach Crop

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Summer's here, of course, that means fresh peaches. When it comes to peaches, lots of people think of Georgia. But Georgia peaches are having a tough year. The state is missing something like 85 percent of its usual crop. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Grant Blankenship explains.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP, BYLINE: There are peaches for sale within sight of the ornate fountain at the center of the park that's home to Macon, Georgia's weekly farmer's market. And they've caught the eye of Linda Marlow and her sister.

LINDA MARLOW: Well, we're from California, so we want Georgia peaches.

BLANKENSHIP: California, by the way, produces more peaches than any other state in the country. So it's not like the fruit is a novelty.

MARLOW: Well, yeah, but we expect they're going to be better here.

BLANKENSHIP: Why is that?

MARLOW: Because you're famous for it.

BLANKENSHIP: Right. I mean, who gets excited about a California peach? Mark Sanchez says there's a one word reason.

MARK SANCHEZ: The climate.

BLANKENSHIP: Sanchez is the CEO of Lane Packing. It's one of the big growers in the four-county area smack in the middle of Georgia where peaches come from. His office by the loading dock is, in fact, in Peach County. He says California can't touch Georgia's weather.

SANCHEZ: In Georgia, we have the cool nights, a lot of rainfall, very hot summers.

BLANKENSHIP: That makes a juicy peach. Hot in the summer here? Well, you bet. It's those cool nights that were missing last winter, and that's a problem. Sanchez says before peaches bloom in the spring, they need long, uninterrupted stretches of cold in the winter.

SANCHEZ: Our desired level is about 850 to 1,000 hours under 45 degrees.

BLANKENSHIP: That's like two and a half months of cold nights.

SANCHEZ: This past winter, we had just barely 500.

BLANKENSHIP: So only one month of cold. Add a two-day March freeze, and peach blossoms from here to North Carolina bit the dust. So about that climate...

SANCHEZ: Certainly, the climate is changing for whatever reason. We won't get into that. But the last couple of years been pretty warm. Two years don't make a trend.

BLANKENSHIP: Climate data kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, goes back much farther. NOAA data puts Georgia's average winter temperature at 45 degrees Fahrenheit in 1895. The most recent average in 2015 puts that at 47 degrees. Still, even given the terrible season, Sanchez says there are plenty of peaches for southern markets. But...

SANCHEZ: If you're in Boston in the mid to late July looking for Georgia peaches, it'll be hard to find.

BLANKENSHIP: George's peaches will be picked by early July. They usually last until August. Jon Clement says that may not be a big deal.

JON CLEMENT: We got a moderate to good peach crop right now going, which is good for us.

BLANKENSHIP: Clement is an agricultural extension educator with the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He specializes in tree fruits like peaches. There, it can get too cold.

CLEMENT: But it only got just barely below zero this year, so the winter was not a problem.

BLANKENSHIP: That's been the trend for growers there for over a decade. Clement says that means plenty of local fruit for New Englanders. Georgia's peach crop will stay in Georgia.

Back at the farmer's market, Linda Marlow's niece, Shannon Perches, imagines life in Georgia without local peaches.

SHANNON PERCHES: That wouldn't sit well at all. I'm in Georgia. I should be eating Georgia peaches.

BLANKENSHIP: For a few more weeks, that's something she can look forward to. For NPR News, I'm Graham Blankenship in Macon, Ga.

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