Adequate chill hours setting fruit crops nicely

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UVALDE – Adequate chill hours and good spring conditions have peach and other fruit producers excited about 2018, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist.

Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Uvalde, said production levels should increase for most fruit producers around the state following near-perfect winter and early spring conditions.

Much of the state received ample damp, cloudy days with temperatures between 32-45 degrees, which are ideal for accruing chill hours, Stein said.

Chill hours begin to add up after the first freeze each fall, he said. Trees go dormant for the winter, but chill hours promote hormones that dilute growth inhibitors throughout the winter and prepare the plant to break dormancy and promote growth, bloom and set fruit.

“Trees bloomed extremely well and to my knowledge everyone has a crop that looks good to really good,” he said. “Chill hours are the No. 1 factor, and moisture was good coming into fall and winter, so trees should be in good shape for fruit production.”

Thinning fruit should be a priority for producers who want good fruit size, because high volume fruit sets are expected, Stein said.

“That takes time and labor,” he said. “Heavy sets may need thinning two or three times.”

Heavier labor requirements will be welcome after two seasons with warm winters and poor chill hour accrual, Stein said. The lack of chill hours weakens trees and in extreme cases can cause poor leafing, which can render trees too weak to produce, or kill them.

“Trees that aren’t managed appropriately may have been at risk of being too weak to produce good sets, but I haven’t heard of any major cases of that occurring among established growers,” he said. “I’ve heard of cases of individual yard trees dying, but not in production orchards.”

Stein said there is still a possibility of a late freeze for some areas, but he is doubtful it would be significant enough to damage fruit sets. A minor freeze could help producers thin fruit from their trees.

“The thing that would worry me still is spring thunderstorms that produce hail,” he said. “There has been some wind and hail damage in the Hill Country and southeast of that region. It’s a concern, but there is not much you can do about Mother Nature.”

Moisture levels were a concern before a recent good general rain provided good soil moisture across much of the state’s major production areas, he said.

Stein said producers will also need to stay on top of typical disease and pest management.

“If it keeps raining, they’ll want to stay on top of their spray program,” he said. “Overall, and I always hate to get ahead of myself, it looks like everyone should expect production levels to be up from last year.”

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