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Freezing temperatures devastate S.C. farmers

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Freezing temperatures recorded last week dealt S.C. peach farmers the worst crop damage they have seen in a decade, the state Department of Agriculture said. Strawberries and blueberries also were among other crops heavily damaged by the cold temperatures, the agency added.

Members of the S.C. Peach Council and other industry representatives met Monday to discuss the severity of the damage to the peach crop, which was in early bloom as a result of an unseasonably warm winter, the agency added.

Farmers may have lost 85% to 90% of their crop, the department said, adding that consumers can expect to see limited quantities of locally grown peaches in July and August.

“Peaches are a signature South Carolina crop, and this weather anomaly has devastated peach farmers,” Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said. “However, as South Carolina farmers have shown time and again, they are resilient and with the help of allied-industry partners, they will survive this devastating blow.”

The Agriculture Department also reported that the strawberry crop suffered about a 15% loss, while Midlands and Upstate blueberry farmers are reporting significant loss, similar to that of peaches. Information is still being gathered from blueberry farms in the lower part of the state, the agency said.

The freeze will impact more than just the fruit, the agency reported. Peach farms are major economic drivers in rural communities and support more than 1,500 jobs statewide. Farmers are still assessing the damage and do not expect to know the total impact of the freeze for at least three weeks.

South Carolina is the largest peach producing state on the East Coast and is second only to California nationally. The annual peach crop has a value of $90 million with a $300 million economic impact.

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