While cold temperatures are to be expected in December, having them dip into the teens is very unusual in Georgia, and a major cause for concern amongst producers. It’s why they were left with some tough decisions on very short notice after a severe cold front to end 2022.
“We started trying to prepare the best we could, watched every weather report that came out,” says Tim McMillian, Owner of Southern Grace Farm. “So, we made sure that our frost protection was ready to go. We made sure that our row covers were ready to go, and, of course we had everything on the farm to make sure we had the water out of it and make sure it didn’t burst.”
With strawberries being the furthest along, getting them protected was a priority. While they were caught a little shorthanded, it appears this year’s crop was salvaged despite some minor damage.
“With the strawberries, we used row covers just like a blanket, like we use in our homes,” says McMillian. “Some of our strawberries we used one row cover and on some we used two row covers and we found that the two was better than the one. We think that where we used two row covers we’re going to be on schedule. We really don’t think it affected them that much, but where we used only one cover, we’re probably going to be a month behind with the, with the fruiting.”
However, protecting the citrus crop is a little more labor intensive as each tree must be individually taken care of before the freezing temperatures.
“With the citrus, we use wraps or tunnels or teepees. Inside of that wrap or teepee is an emitter that emits water, and it’s a spray. The theory is that it’ll create heat inside of that wrap and keep the graft of that tree warm enough that it doesn’t damage it,” says McMillian.
While these trees did suffer damage, the extent won’t be known for quite some time. However, the rest of the crops appear to be in good condition.
“With the citrus, it’s just way too early to tell,” says McMillian. “We think it will be six months to a year before we can really know just how bad it’s hurt us. With the rest of our fruit though, we have plums and blackberries and if you can grow it in South Georgia, we just about grow it. We really don’t think we’re going to see any effects.”
Even though this type of weather might be out of the norm, it is something growers will need to keep in the back of their mind when planning for the future, which is why this event can serve as a good learning experience when preparing for the next growing season.
“I hope we learn a lot from this and I hope that the University of Georgia and the Citrus Association gather information from all the growers across South Georgia and we can kind of figure out what worked best,” says McMillian. “I’m hopeful that this is going to be a learning experience and we will gain some wisdom from it.”
By: Damon Jones