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Weather is to blame for roughly 90% of Georgia's peach crop being destroyed

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In the state of Georgia, summertime means peaches, but roughly 90% of the crop has been destroyed. As Sam Gringlas reports from WABE, weather and climate get the blame.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: The last time things were this bad was 1955. That's according to Lawton Pearson of Pearson Farm in Fort Valley, Ga.

LAWTON PEARSON: I didn't see it. I wasn't alive. My dad was only 6. My grandfather picked two peaches, and they went to California for the summer.

GRINGLAS: Peaches require a minimum number of chill hours - below 45 degrees - to set fruit. But the first three months of this year were the warmest on record in Georgia, and chill hours here have been declining over the years. That is climate change. Growers are experimenting with new varieties that need fewer chill hours. Some of those did get the cold they needed, but right when they were blooming - a spurt of unlucky freezing weather.

PEARSON: You have a low-chill peach that was perfectly fine with this winter. So it bloomed, and then it got four nights under 28. Can't win either way.

GRINGLAS: So don't count on sinking your teeth into a peach from the Peach State anytime soon.

PEARSON: Not Georgia Peaches. I don't think you'll see Georgia peaches in a grocery store.

GRINGLAS: Pearson's summer staff will be down to 40 from the typical 250. He can't retreat to California like his grandfather did in '55. The business has diversified, including a growing pecan crop. But Pearson says looking at trees with no peaches is painful.

PEARSON: Oh, God, yeah.

GRINGLAS: One bright spot - the few that do make it benefit from having all the sun, water and nutrients to themselves.

PEARSON: The peaches you're left with sometimes are fantastic and they're huge and they're sweeter than - like, the peaches we have are awesome and just leaves you wanting more.

GRINGLAS: Pearson's ready for August, when peach season is over and he can look to next year.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Gringlas in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF KHRUANGBIN'S "DERN KALA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.