Archive for February, 2018

Orchardist experts from Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina share their perspective on the current accumulation of winter chill and how it might affect the upcoming harvest season.

Winter Chill Offers Promise for 2018 Crop


After what was a devastating season for many in 2017, some peach growers in the
southeastern United States were cautious yet optimistic as winter freezes brought in
needed chill hours for the 2018 crop.

“The trees look the best to me in three years,” says Benny McLean Jr. of McLean
Family Farms in Clermont, Florida, formerly known as Uncle Matt’s Organic. He
reports as of January 18 that his trees were pretty much dormant, with red wood and a
“thimble full” of blooms. “There are more spiders in the tree than there are flowers,”
says McLean, who sells direct to the public through u-pick.
For now, they must wait. “We have to get through February and March,”
explains McLean, who didn’t have chill hour statistics for his area. “We hold our breath
for the next 75 days.”

In Middle Georgia near Macon, Lee Dickey, co-owner of Dickey Farms, also
was cautious. “It’s too early to say. The good news is that we are certainly ahead of
where we were last year,” he says. The area logged about 800 chill hours by January 19,
close to the historical average, according to Dickey. “A year like last year is vey rare.
Hopefully, it will continue to be a rare occurrence,” he adds.
An unseasonably warm winter, followed by a freeze, was bad news for many
southeastern U.S. peach growers in 2017. But some in Florida benefitted from a longer
season when supplies dwindled farther north.

Peach experts in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina all are hopeful for a good
year this year because of the winter chill. “We are doing a lot better than we were doing
last year,” says Dario Chavez, assistant professor in peach and extension for the
University of Georgia in Griffin, who is the state’s peach specialist.
The area had logged 841 hours by January 22, compared to 373 hours by January
21, 2017. “We’re okay if we keep accumulating chill,” he says. “All of us are pretty
excited for this season,” he adds. “Some still probably need a good season to recover
[from last year].”

If any sustain damage this winter, it won’t be evident until the trees come out of
dormancy— and goo oozes from blisters on trunks and limbs.
Jeff Cook, an area peach agent and County Agriculture Agent in Taylor and Peach
counties, GA, estimates middle Georgia had about 750 hours or more by January 18.
“We should have adequate chill for most of the varieties grown in our state,” he says.
Ideally, the area will obtain 1100 to 1200 chill hours. “We need 850. We would love
950 and above,” he says.

South Carolina growers are also faring well thus far. “We’re in the green on
chill hours,” says Greg Henderson, area commercial fruit agent for Clemson University
Extension Service. “We’ve had pretty uniform temperatures, both normal highs and
lows— other than those couple of weeks of arctic weather.”
The area logged about 860 hours by January 23 compared to 476 in a similar time
frame last year, which means South Carolina growers are focusing on more routine
concerns: like when will the blooms come and whether they’ll be a prolonged warm

Florida growers heading for commercial markets are straddling a fine line. “It
[the cold] is a double-edged sword. Having chilling is very good,” says Chris Oswalt, a
University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension agent in Polk
and Hillsborough counties. “In getting their chilling requirement, they also need to have
these trees start producing, setting fruit at a specific period of time.”
Florida’s peach industry, which relies upon varieties bred for the Sunshine State’s
warmer climate, aims to reach market by April— before the Georgia crop. Since it takes
about 85 or 90 days for fruit to develop, a February 1 bloom date is a bit late. “If the
climate is such that it pushes out past where you need to be flowering and setting fruit,
you may miss your market window,” Oswalt explains.
Steve Callaham, managing partner of Dundee Stone Fruit Growers Association,
which represents some 700 acres in Florida, says growers are “looking forward to a good
crop. Most orchards are blooming now,” he reports in a Jan. 23 interview. “It looks
really good. We hope, with the chill we’ve accumulated this year, we’ll be able to meet
that demand.”

Meanwhile Ali Sarkhosh, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Tree Fruit and
Viticulture at the UF in Gainsville, also was optimistic. “In general, I think this year will
be much much better than 2017 and 2016 for peach growers in Florida.” He says UF,
which bred lower chill peaches for Florida, will be concentrating on how to produce
peaches by the end of March and with less chill. “We want to have a shorter period of
flowering and then harvest the fruit as soon as we can,” he says.
He’s also looking into how to reduce production costs for the Florida industry,
which has grown from some 400 acres in 2009 to more than 2,000 as the state’s citrus
growers looked for alternatives in light of citrus greening disease. The state produces a
tasty, albeit smaller peach about two inches in diameter. While it’s desirable for
children’s snacks, some prefer larger fruit.

In response to concern that Florida peaches are too small, university students will
be experimenting with a peach cider that may be available by the end of July. “We are
not worried about sizes for peach cider,” Sarkhosh observes. “It has to be something for
maybe selling in the agritourist industry.”

Though the peach industry has traditionally calculated chill based on chill hours
below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, some are experimenting with other ways to calculate chill
that may work better. Through the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN),
Florida growers can calculate chill through the Dynamic Model, which relies on chill
portions. “We display the previous five years of chill portions for a selected date range,”
explains Rick Lusher, FAWN director.

In Georgia, Chavez is trying to get all basic models added to the UGA network of
weather stations at, that includes:

 Utah, a stricter model that negates chill when temperatures rise;
 Dynamic, which measures chill units, negating some time when warmer
weather occurs;
 Weinburger, the traditional model logging hours under 45 degrees
Fahrenheit; and
 Modified Weinburger, which logs hours between 32 and 45 degrees

South Carolina growers may rely on UGA. Weinburger and Modified
Weinburger model calculations are available at


Four Conclusions Bloom from the Recent Conference

Take a Look at These Important Takeaways for Peach Growers from the Southeast
Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference


The Southeast Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference was held in Savannah, Georgia in
mid-January, in partnership between the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association and
the Georgia Peach Council. It offered a slew of educational sessions concerning peaches. For
those who were unable to attend, Lee Dickey of family-owned and operated Dickey Farms in
Georgia shares some of the important takeaways for peach growers, below.

Takeaway #1: Plan for lack of chill hours. “The last two years— really last year— were
extreme in terms of low chill here in the Southeast,” Dickey says. Both the 2017 and 2016
seasons were hard ones for peach growers, and the trouble was mainly due to lack of chill
hours because of unseasonably warm winters.
The warm winter of 2017 was so devastating that most growers in the Southeast lost
significant portions of their crop. “We ended up with around 500 or so chill hours. It was an
unusually warm winter in the Southeast, and the peaches did not get the chill requirements
they needed, which resulted in Georgia with about 20 percent of our crop across the state due
to low chill,” Dickey explains. It was such an important topic that nearly a quarter of the peach
educational sessions at the conference dealt with low chill hours in some manner.
While it would be gratifying to report that one of the sessions dealt with a sure-fire way
to combat low chill hours, the fact of the matter is that there is little that can be done when the
lack of chill hours are as significant as in years past— as in, hundreds of chill hours behind
schedule. “Really, there’s not a whole lot you can do in terms of low chill. There’s some ways
to get leaves to come out, but fruit bud break is very hard to achieve without the necessary chill
requirements,” Dickey says. “There are varieties that do better,” he adds, and knowing which
varieties did better with lower chill hours could guide future planting.

Takeaway #2: Barring something major, the 2018 peach season is shaping up to be a
good one. Peach growers are in need of a good year to rebound after one bad year followed by
a really, really bad year, and they just might get it in 2018. “We’re over 800 hours right now,”
Dickey says. “So, by the time we get to February 15, I think we’ll be very full in terms of chill

Takeaway #3: Plan for freezes, too. Warm weather isn’t the only weather extreme that
can bother Southeastern peach growers; freezing temperatures hitting as blossoms are turning
to fruit can be an issue as well. Dickey points out that a late-season freeze added insult to the

injuries caused by lack of chill for peach crops in 2017, so really cold weather can be something
for peach growers to combat as well.
While one session discussed options like wind machines, undertree sprinklers, and
heating systems to fight frost damage, Dickey again shares that little can be done. “It’s very
limited what you can do on a large scale,” he maintains.

Takeaway #4: MP-29 rootstock looks promising. “The discussion of the MP-29
rootstock is something really interesting,” Dickey says. “It has the promise to be, as it seems to
be right now, a viable commercial rootstock.” The USDA-ARS’s Dr. Tom Beckman discussed the
trials concerning MP-29, an interspecific rootstock that has a proven resistance to peach tree
short life (PTSL) and Armillaria root rot, two diseases affecting Southeast peaches. MP-23 also
has a proven “excellent yield and fruit size,” according to the Southeast Regional Fruit &
Vegetable Conference’s agenda. Dickey shared that while there have been challenges with
availability of the MP-29 rootstock and with growing it on a commercial scale, he thinks MP-29
“could be something very interesting for Southeast growers to take a look at.”


Be on the Lookout for Pest Problems in 2018

Q&A with Brett Blaauw, PhD, on Managing Pests in the Orchard this Year


Every year presents new challenges when it comes to managing pests in the orchards. We asked
Brett Blaauw, PhD, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist at the University of Georgia’s
Entomology Department, for some insight as to what creatures orchardists in the Southeast should be
on the lookout for this year.

The Peach News (TPN): Q: What pests do you anticipate being big problems in 2018?

Brett Blaauw, PhD: Scale insects, such as San Jose scale and/or white peach scale. Also, borers,
particularly lesser peach tree borer.The Peach News (TPN): What pests do you anticipate being big problems in 2018?
Brett Blaauw, PhD: Scale insects, such as San Jose scale and/or white peach scale. Also, borers,
particularly lesser peach tree borer.

The Peach News (TPN): Q: How will this differ from past years?

Blaauw: San Jose scale has been increasing in abundance and severity over the past decade and does
not seem to be slowing down. On top of that, with last year’s widespread crop loss, insect pest
management in orchards with severe crop loss was likely neglected or reduced. Such a reduction may
have allowed scale abundance to grow throughout the season, resulting in considerably larger scale
populations this spring than typically anticipated. Similarly, seasonal cover sprays help suppress lesser
peach tree borer populations within orchards, and thus a reduction in these insecticide applications last
year may have resulted in an increase in borer infestations.

The Peach News (TPN): Q:What effects could these pests have on harvests?

Blaauw: Both scale insects and lesser peach tree borer are considered indirect pests of peaches,
meaning they attack the tree rather than the fruit. The significant injury due to scale can lead to twig or
limb die-back, even death of trees if populations reach high levels. Although considered an indirect
pest, at high populations, scale can move to the fruit, resulting in small, red, measle-like lesions on the
peach skin.
Orchards heavily infested by lesser peach tree borer suffer reduced fruit size and yield.
Continued attack by these borers can result in premature tree decline and death. Thus, high infestations
of either of these pests has the potential to considerably reduce yield and the overall lifetime of an

The Peach News (TPN): Q: What do farmers need to do to prepare for these possibilities?

Blaauw: For scale insects, infested branches and limbs should be pruned out and removed/destroyed.
Since pruning is required anyway, targeting scale infested branches can significantly reduce the scale
population within an orchard. Growers also need to apply horticultural oil as a dormant and as a
delayed-dormant application to every acre of peaches, every year. Coverage with the oil is crucial for effective scale control. The addition of an insecticide (i.e. chlorpyrifos or an insect grower regulator) with the delayed-dormant application can improve early season control of scale. Additional applications of insecticides later in the season may be needed if populations continue to grow. The most effective lesser peach tree borer control programs rely on a combination of a preventative chlorpyrifos spray applied at delayed-dormant, followed by a full-season cover spray

The Peach News (TPN): Q: How would organic farmers need to handle the pests?

Blaauw: Similar to the conventional grower recommendations, organic management of scale relies on
pruning and horticultural oils. In this case, growers need to apply an OMRI approved horticultural oil as
a dormant and as a delayed-dormant application to every acre of peaches, every year.
Organic options for lesser peach tree borer are limited. Applications of an organic pyrethroid
(i.e. pyrethrum) throughout the season may help suppress borer populations. Additionally, a new
mating disruption formulation for the Southeast has been developed, tested, and now registered for GA
and SC. While the results are highly encouraging, for the most effective control of borers, mating
disruption needs to me implemented on a large-scale area of peaches.
Lesser peach tree borers need rough surface, such as cracked or peeling bark, to lay their eggs
on, so for both organic and conventional growers, it is important to keep the trees healthy and the bark
intact. That can significantly reduce the chances of borer infestations.

The Peach News (TPN): Q:  In economic terms, what impact will these pests have as compared to other years?

Blaauw: This is really hard to predict. I sure hope this is not the case, but if scale insects and/or borers
went unchecked/unmanaged in 2017, the loss in scaffold limbs or trees could be substantially higher in
2018 compared to previous years.

The Peach News (TPN): Q: What is your advice for growers experiencing pest problems in their orchards?

Blaauw: Contact their local extension agents and/or state specialists. Additionally, the “Southeastern
peach, nectarine and plum pest management and culture guide” and the MyIPM smartphone
application are excellent and informative resources.
While I have focused on two major pests of concern, it will be important to keep an eye on plum
curculio and sap beetles, especially in orchards with a previous history of issues with these pests. And of
course, the diseases are a whole other ongoing issue that producers will continue to deal with in 2018.



There Are Lots of Things Blooming in the Peach Industry

At the start of the year, it’s only natural to look at the year ahead with optimism. Peach growers
are no different, and while growers have challenges and setbacks, they are resilient and optimistic
To help you in your field management practices and preparations for the coming 2018 harvest,
we have a very informative lineup in this edition. First and foremost, the editorial update on current
chill hours across the Southeast gives you a bird’s eye view of what’s happening with your fellow
orchardists across Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. It’s interesting to hear from experts and
growers in each geographic area, and there’s something to be said about comparing notes. We can
learn from each other, even with our different climates, varieties, and harvest windows to consider.
In addition, if you were not able to attend the recent Southeast Regional Fruit & Vegetable
Conference, we spoke with a Georgia grower who attended to get his perspective on some very
important takeaways from the peach educational sessions.
Plus, you can find a very insightful Q&A with Dr. Brett Blaauw, an assistant professor and
extension specialist with the University of Georgia’s Entomology Department, about pest problems to be
on the lookout for in 2018.
In other recent news, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
(UF/IFAS) welcomed a new member to the Horticultural Sciences Department. Ali Sarkhosh, PhD, has
recently joined as the assistant professor and extension specialist in tree fruit and viticulture, with a
special emphasis on low-chill stone fruit and grape production. He plans to focus his research on
optimizing production systems, including chilling hours requirement (dormancy break), crop load,
canopy management, tree size control, application of PGRs, irrigation and nutrition management,
organic production, and value-added product. We welcome Dr. Sarkhosh to the UF/IFAS faculty, and
look forward to his collaboration in the Florida peach industry.
Remember, if you are a grower in the Southeast, you may subscribe for free by sending us your
mailing address. For more information, see the form on page 12. Thanks for reading The Peach News,
and I wish you a plentiful and prosperous 2018.


Attention Georgia Growers: Mark Your Calendars for this Event

Whether it’s a roundtable, conference, trade show, or field tour, we make it a priority to keep
our ear to the ground for any relevant and timely events for peach growers in the Southeast.
While I’m sure some of you were able to attend the Southeast Regional Fruit & Vegetable
Conference held in January, (and gained a lot of insight from it), there’s another event of a more
intimate and timely nature around the corner for Georgia growers.
The Middle Georgia Peach Update is being held on February 20 at 10 a.m. Growers will be
meeting at the USDA Fruit and Tree Nut Research Lab, located at 21 Dunbar Road in Byron, GA.
If you have any questions about the agenda of the update, you can contact Jeff Cook, the UGA
county extension coordinator for Peach and Taylor counties at (478) 862-5496 or email
If you are aware of a peach-related event in your area that would benefit your fellow growers,
let us know and we will share it on our website at