Chilton County peach farmers predict short supply of 2017 crop

Chilton County peach farmers predict short supply of 2017 crop
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

CHILTON CO., AL (WSFA) - Lynn Harrison has been down this road before. The absence of a real winter was not good for his peach trees, which require about 1,000 hours of cold temperatures below 45 degrees between October 1 to around mid-February. That's the so-called 'dormant' hours when the trees rest.

"If we didn't get but an hour's sleep last night, we would be sluggish and slow to get moving," Harrison explained. "It's the same with the trees. If they don't get their rest they will act the same way."

The warm winters meant the small trees kept producing to some degree. In the process, they've worn themselves out.

"You see the leaves are withering themselves out," Harrison said pointing to a tree that's clearly dying.

Thankfully for him, though, most of his trees are okay and producing enough peaches to soon fill up his fruit stand on Highway 82 West just inside the Chilton County line. He's even planted a few more trees not far away.

"It's like anything else. You've got to replace the old with new in order to stay in business," said Harrison, who has around 30 acres.

He's on the lower end of the average crop size in Chilton County. Those in the northern half of the county, on the whole, did a little better because their winter was cooler.

"It's still a good business to be in and we're noticing more and more young farmers getting in," said Jim Pitts, Auburn University Chilton Research and Experiment Center Director.

The peach crop in Chilton County is big, an economic engine worth around $10 million. While the last two winters have been mild and warm for Chilton County peach farmers, that is not to say this year's crop will be a disaster; nothing compared to what happened in 199 when a devastating late freeze all but wiped out the crop.

Harrison remembers.

"We didn't even open up that summer," he explained, referring to his family's fruit stand.

The bottom line is this: Lynn Harrison expects a 'fair' crop this summer but not an overabundance. That means there won't be enough peaches to last the entire summer, but at least through mid-July. Peachy enough.

There are between 30 to 35 full-time peach farmers in Chilton County. Harrison is a third generation peach farmer in his family.

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