Frost forecast has South Jersey farmers on high alert

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Heilig Orchards produces about 100,000 half bushels of Jersey peaches every year. (WPVI)

At Heilig Orchards in Mullica Hill, farmer Carl Heilig is worried. The thermometer is expected to dip to freezing or near-freezing in the coming days, and that could have a devastating effect on his 300 acres of peach trees.

"About three weeks ago, we had three days of the low 80s, and the peaches woke up and they just haven't really stopped," said Heiling, farmer. "The problem is that these peaches are in full bloom, and there's a little pistil inside here and that's what gets killed by the cold weather."

Heilig Orchards produces about 100,000 half bushels of Jersey peaches every year. If the cold weather damages the buds on the trees, it could wipe out the entire crop for the season.

"It could wipe out the crop definitely. If it gets down to 25 for an extended period of time, it'll definitely hurt the crop," said Heiling. "If all these blossoms get frozen, we are going to be in big trouble. There's not really too much we can do about it."

Last year Heilig lost 1,000 peach trees to cold weather, which is why he's worried about freezing forecasts.

"I check the weather basically every two hours during the day to see if that number's changed," said Heiling.

New Jersey ranks 4th nationally in peach production. Obviously keeping frost from the crops is a major concern in South Jersey, where farmers produce over 100 varieties of the juicy fruit in soil that's ideal for growing peaches.

Heilig hopes Mother Nature won't mess with that.

"It could be bad or it could be good, but right now it's pretty scary," said Heiling.
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