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As a result of climate change, agriculture in the ‘Peach State’ of Georgia suffers.

Everything appears normal from a distance: neat rows of peach trees with their green leaves fluttering in the breeze, near a charming little American farmhouse.

Stuart Gregg, a farmer from Georgia, searched the branches in vain for a solitary piece of fruit.

“We have no harvest this year,” he said.

Gregg’s prized peaches, along with those on farms throughout Georgia, have been decimated, an uncommon occurrence for the southern state so closely associated with the fruit that it is dubbed the “Peach State.”

Due to an unusually benign winter, peach blossoms bloomed early last year. In March, however, the temperature fell below freezing, which was much too cold for the delicate buds.

“When we first began examining this, we found one peach blossom open and lifeless. We despise seeing this,” Gregg told the AFP.

Three days of frost were sufficient to destroy the entire crop.

Gregg Farms, a family-owned business in Concord that cultivates approximately 70 acres (28 hectares), has only a smattering of fallen pits to show for this season’s harvest.

It is a “six-figure” loss, which is unprecedented in the past two decades.

The family reluctantly decided not to expose their fields to customers, who typically come to pick peaches or enjoy ice cream, this summer. A large crimson sign at the farm’s entrance invites visitors to return “in 2024.”

Ninety percent decline

According to experts, roughly 90 percent of this year’s peach harvest in the state has been lost. They warn that this will occur more frequently as a result of climate change.

Some peach varieties that require a cold winter “will not be able to be grown in Georgia at all,” according to Pam Knox, an agricultural climatologist at the University of Georgia.

The fragrant and juicy fruit has been a staple in the state for decades.

Gregg said with pride, “Nothing compares to a Georgia peach.” This year, peach trees are absent from license plates, restaurant menus, and virtually everywhere else.

Dario Chavez, a professor of horticulture who specializes in peaches, is devising new hybrid varieties that are better adapted to mild winters in order to assist local growers.

Due to the failure of the peach harvest, Gregg Farms in Concord, Georgia, has been temporarily closed.

The scientist, who resides in Peachtree City, remarked, “You essentially perform matchmaking.”

In his laboratory and the orchard at the University of Georgia, he can cross species selected for their delectable flavor, high yield, or adaptability to warmer climates.

Chavez, 39, works with farmers who are “not afraid of change,” according to his statement.

The process, however, is sluggish. It may take 15 years for the results of our current actions to become apparent.

In the interim, some farmers have resumed cultivating citrus fruits and other fruits previously grown only further south. “As time passes and Georgia becomes warmer, they are experimenting with more varieties, including grapefruits and even oranges,” said Knox.

But climate change threatens more than just peaches.

Georgia’s blueberries are also a significant crop, and they are also in decline.

Gregg and his family, who cultivate blueberries alongside apricot trees, have lost approximately 75% of their crop this year.

“Previously, we always had an abundance of blueberries. And in the last two or three years, not really,” he said, sweeping his hand over the few remaining small purple fruits on the shrubs.

The young farmer, whose grandparents founded the farm in the 1970s, declines to remark on the reasons for the disastrous 2023 season.

“We are not really scientists,” he stated. “I cannot really be concerned about climate change, regardless of whether it will occur or not. We are doing our best.”

In July 2023, on Gregg Farms in Concord, Georgia, a peach pit rests on the soil.
Photo: Jim Watson/AAFP/File; AFP as source

If a fruit that is more resistant to disease is developed, he would be eager to cultivate it.

In the interim, he imagines next summer to be abundant with succulent peaches and satisfied customers, and a smile returns to his lips.

Gregg reminded himself that poor harvests are part of a farmer’s existence.

He stated, “You know, gambling and farming are very similar.” Each year is merely a game of chance.

Credit: AFP



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