Commissioner Gary W. Black joined House Ag Committee Chair Tom McCall late last week to survey the damage to fruit and vegetable crops from freezing temperatures that hit the state on Wednesday, March 15 and Thursday, March 16. The extreme temperatures were felt border to border, with farmers experiencing temperatures as low as 22 degrees as far south as Homerville, Georgia , located on the Florida state line.
“It is still a little early to predict just how great the loss will be for some of the crops, but there is no denying the financial strain on these families caused by this event,” Commissioner Black said. “I think it is safe to say that the losses will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars”
The South Georgia blueberry crop was hit in the hardest. Early estimates predict losses as much as 80 percent of expected production.
“This is the tornado or hurricane of many of our growers lives,” Commissioner Black said. “We saw blueberry fields that had the potential to be the biggest and best crop of Georgia’s production history that you would now not be able to find enough blueberries that survived the cold to make one pie,”
The mild winter and early spring the Southeast has experienced this year has compounded the damage as much of the produce crop is ahead of the state’s average blooming dates by a couple of weeks.
“As a farmer myself, the turmoil these folks are experiencing is gut-wrenching, “Chairman McCall said. “Our job now is to listen and support these farmers as a united Legislature.”
Georgia was poised to be the largest blueberry producing state for 2017. The annual blueberry farm gate value is over $255 million with a significantly greater economic impact. Other crops affected by the freeze include peaches, strawberries, watermelons, peppers and other tabletop vegetables. The peach crop could be down as much as two thirds.