Chilton County Peaches in Jeopardy

Chilton County peach farmers appeared to be on track for one of the better crops in years. "We've had the best winter we've ever had, the best spring we've ever had," said Chilton County Research and Extension Center Superintendent Jim Pitts.

Now, they're braced for what could be a devastating year.  Pitts says the cold weather could kill the crop, wiping out a ten million dollar a year industry in Chilton County. He says, "If you lose $10 dollars, that's a big loss."

Coming off a poor crop in 2006, another in 2007 could drive farmers like Tom Bentley out of business. He says, "I'd have to quit."

Bentley spent the last two days calling officials trying to get some help from the Army. He wants Ft. Rucker helicopters to hover over the peach trees to push warmer air down on the trees to keep the young crop from freezing.  He says, "I've asked the governor for 40."

Henry Williams is the only Chilton County farmer who has wind machines. He has also rented two helicopters. "If you can keep a little air moving, the coldest it will get is air temperature. That can save the crop," says Williams.

Williams believes it will be either a total save or total loss this weekend. In the meantime, farmers are doing all they can hoping, praying and preparing.  "I said to myself, lord this is too pretty of a crop to let something happen to it. I said you're not going to let these peaches get killed. Maybe he won't," said Bentley.

Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks says he's working with Congressman Spencer Bachus and Governor Bob Riley regarding the possible deployment of helicopters, if they're available. Bachus says his office is taking steps to secure disaster assistance in case there is any significant damage to the peach crop.

The state AG department says, if temperatures this weekend remain below freezing for 2 hours, the peach crop would suffer severe damage. If temperatures remain below freezing for 4 hours, the entire peach crop would be lost.