Published: 2012-02-23 17:48:00
Updated: 2012-02-23 18:32:48
Posted February 23, 2012
West End, N.C. — The unseasonably warm weather that has graced central North Carolina this winter causes fruit farmers to fret.
Farmers like Watts Auman worry that mild temperatures will entice fruit trees in North Carolina's peach belt, which stretches into western Moore County, to start to bloom and put them at risk of a spring frost.
The peach trees on Auman's farm off N.C. Highway 73 are as gray as Brillo pads, but the branches are beginning to slow glimpses of pink.
"The more open they get, the more vulnerable they are," he said. "It does that, and most cold weather will kill them."
A deep freeze in the first week of April 2007, for example, wiped out all of Auman's peaches, along with most of the state's crop.
Auman, 73, said he's a bit nervous about this year's weather but added, "It can probably work out to be a pretty good crop."
The thermometer topped 70 degrees on his farm Thursday, only days after dropping below 30.
Plants need a certain amount of so-called chilling hours, when the temperature is between about 30 and 45 degrees before they can sprout blossoms, Auman said.
State agriculture officials said one of the worst years ever for peaches was 1996, when too few chill hours were followed by a spring freeze.
The peach trees have enough logged enough chilling hours this year, Auman said, so any warmth now can unclench the buds.
"A week from now, you're going to look down these rows and see a faint tint of this color," he said.