With temperatures on the rise, you'd be hard-pressed to find a farmer that hasn't been impacted by the changing climate. And peach farmers in Georgia are no exception. They've noticed an undeniable change in their annual harvest, but the question is, what can be done about it?
For anyone that's visited the State of Georgia, peaches are arguably the most important emblem of the region. The sweet stone fruit has made its way into every facet of Georgian life, from lottery tickets to beer labels, license plates, and more. And for good reason, as according to the University of Georgia, the "Peach State" produces over 130 million pounds of peaches each year. And from harvesting to export sales, it is arguably the backbone of the State's economy, especially in the two commercial peach-growing regions. But something has changed...
According to National Geographic, Georgia has seen an increase in annual winter temperatures by five degrees since 1960. And while the stone fruit's harvest season falls during the spring and summer months, the trees require a certain number of chilled hours for the spring buds to result in a strong crop. The Elberta peach variety, for example, needs roughly 800 hours of chilled temperatures - and without it, "nothing can wake them up until the cold requirement is satisfied," explained Ksenija Gasic, an expert associated with Clemson University. Following the chilled hours, an increase to 45°F is then required to start the flowering process. But when temperature fluctuation occurs (which is a rising issue due to climate change), the peach quality decreases considerably, threatening many farmers' livelihoods.
For farmers and academic researchers alike, it's clear that the issues facing peach farming aren't going anywhere anytime soon. So efforts have turned towards acclimatizing peach DNA in order to work with the change in chill hours and spring weather. "I have this crazy idea that I can produce a low-chill variety in Georgia," explained Dario Chavez, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia. But it's no easy feat. He estimates anywhere from seven to 14 years to alter the peach genes successfully.
Be sure to check back soon for more interesting facts from the world of environmental science.