MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — It’s prime time for peaches in Alabama, with Chilton County produce stands opening for the season. But this year, there are fewer peaches to go around after a cold snap this spring devastated much of the fruit.
It took just one night of below-freezing temperatures in late March for Lynn Harrison to lose 99% of his peach crop.
“Eight and a half hours ruined a whole year’s work,” Harrison said.
His orchard of about 500 peach trees in Maplesville supplies Harrison Fruit Farms and his family’s roadside stand in western Chilton County.
After the cold snap, Harrison started growing vegetables to supplement the stand. He’s also found peaches from other farmers who had a luckier harvest but says overall, this year was a loss for much of the state.
“This right here is what we’re seeing a lot of this year, just a little deformed, and nongrowing peaches,” Harrison said.
Harrison has had to raise peach prices this year, but he’s not alone.
Regional Extension Agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System David Lawrence says much of the southeast has been devastated, especially central Alabama.
“Across the board, we’re looking at 75% loss on a lot of varieties, and there’s some growers that won’t pick a peach this year,” Lawrence said.
Peaches are big business in Chilton County, drawing in beachgoers to the numerous fruit stands along I-65, like Easterling’s Big Peach.
Owner Kenyon Easterling says they’re important for the area’s economy — creating jobs and requiring spending on farm equipment.
“The whole economy just trickles down to all of it,” Easterling said.
It’s still early in the season and Easterling says they have plenty of peaches right now, but this year’s crop loss is unlike anything in recent memory.
His family has been in the peach business for over 70 years.
“I wasn’t around then, but 1955 was the only year that I’ve ever heard that even came close to what we’re experiencing this year, so it’s really an anomaly, kind of off the chart,” Easterling said.
Gov. Kay Ivey asked the USDA Secretary for a disaster declaration in late May to better help farmers recover from the cold snap and crop losses. It was granted May 26 to directly assist Baldwin, Henry, Elmore, Houston and Montgomery counties, as well as several other contiguous counties with crop loss.