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Arkansas Peach Trees Bloom Early; Late Freeze Still Possible

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CLARKSVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Record warm temperatures have peach trees blooming in western Arkansas, leaving growers worried that a late freeze could hurt their crop.

After a similarly mild winter in 2007, a freeze in early April wiped out the state's peach crop and took 80 percent of the grape crop, too.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock says there is a 50-50 chance of the last freeze of the year occurring by March 22 and the last frost on April 4.

Dan Chapman, director of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Fruit Research Station, said peach blossoms can take a little frost. But it's a fine line between survival and having a crop ruined.

"Twenty-eight degrees seems to be the magic number," Chapman said. "You can lose some of the blooms in the low 30s, but about 28 degrees, that seems to kill the flower buds."

The blooms are most vulnerable to freeze or frost kill when the petals fall off, just leaving the young fruit. "Twenty-eight degrees can do a lot of damage there," he said.

The forecast for the next week doesn't include any freezing temperatures but growers can rest easy only when the chance of an April freeze is in the past.

Chapman said peach trees need a certain amount of cool weather before spring in order to bloom.

"There are a lot of different theories about that," Chapman said. Some say the low temperatures have to remain between 32 and 45 for a certain amount of hours. Some peaches require only 400 hours of chilling. Others require three times as much.

The duration of cool weather needed by different varieties is more of a concern for backyard growers, Chapman said.

"That can be a problem for people buying fruit from big box stores that don't get varieties specific for the region," he said.

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