Four Conclusions Bloom from the Recent Conference

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

by ERIKA ALDRICH

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
requirements.”

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.”