SC peach crop suffering in mild winter temperatures

The warmer-than-normal temperatures we've been experiencing have most excited to enjoy the sunshine. That's not the case though for South Carolina farmers growing peaches.

MCBEE, SC (WBTW) – The warmer-than-normal temperatures we’ve been experiencing have most excited to enjoy the sunshine. That’s not the case though for South Carolina farmers growing peaches.

“Twenty days ahead of normal, this year is not a good year,” said Kemp McLeod, owner of McLeod Farms in McBee.

McLeod’s family has been farming in McBee for over one hundred years. He said this year’s warmth is not being kind to his crop of peach trees.

“I really don’t remember this many warm days being here as we’ve had this month in February,” recalled McLeod.

McLeod said peaches need hundreds of what are called “chill-hours,” where temperatures reach below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The colder temperatures allow the peach tree’s flowers to grow in preparation for the familiar fruit to grow later on.

“Each variety has a different rest period,” McLeod explained. “This particular variety is a low-chilling peach which means it needs less chilling to flower.”

While the trees may look beautiful with their blooms in February, McLeod said it’s still just a little early for the trees to look so pretty.

“The ones that are slower to come out might not set a crop,” said McLeod, pointing to blooming trees on a hill on the property. “These will probably set a crop, but they might get killed in a spring frost.”

McLeod plants several different varieties of peaches to try and avoid losing a crop to a mild winter like the state is experiencing this year.

"It's just something we gotta deal with right now," -- Kemp McLeod, owner of McLeod Farms. The farm's peach crop is suffering from this winter's mild temperatures.
“It’s just something we gotta deal with right now,” said Kemp McLeod, owner of McLeod Farms. The farm’s peach crop is suffering from this winter’s mild temperatures.

“We’ve got a lot of varieties that are not bloomed out right now,” McLeod said.

The farm tries to plant enough trees so they can stand to lose up to 90 percent and still get a successful crop, though McLeod said this year is putting that formula to the test.

“As far as the probability of this making a peach crop, it’s lower,” the farmer admitted. “A lot lower.”

McLeod and his workers are doing what they can, trying to prune the trees to encourage further growth. And while fewer peaches will likely mean higher prices in the produce aisle–

“There’s a price-point that everyone’s pocketbook can stand,” McLeod said. “Hopefully we’ll have enough for everybody to make a cobbler with and at a price-point that everybody can afford.”

It’s been a tough few years for South Carolina farmers, but McLeod tries to take it in stride.

“We know that this might be a humbling experience for us this year,” the farmer explained. “We’ve had them in the past and we’ll probably have them in the future. It’s just something that we gotta deal with right now.”