Mild winter expected to impact local fruit crops

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LEONA, Tex. (KBTX) - You might have noticed the warmer temperatures as we head into the month of December. In fact, this winter is forecasted to be warmer and drier than usual.

These warmer temperatures can really have an impact on local peach and plum crops, especially for Steve Huebner. The peach and plum farmer in Leon County says without the cold weather, his crops will suffer.

"The trees are not able to set leaf buds or flower buds normally and that can lead to problems. It can also lead to little or no fruit sap,” Huebner said. His Christmas tree and fruit farm is just outside of Leona. He's hoping this winter isn't a repeat of last year's warm winter. What his fruit crops really need are "chill hours."

"A chill hour is the time that the temperature is below 45 degrees. We keep it in terms of hours, so 1 chill hour, is 1 hour below 45 degrees,” said Huebner.

Those chill hours help to put the tree in a sort of hibernation and peach trees require a certain number of chill hours to produce fruit. If the peach tree doesn’t get enough of these hours, it may not produce normal leaf or flower buds, thus little to no fruit. Huebner’s trees need an average of 700 chill hours each winter.

"With La Nina possibly being a factor, we're hoping, growers are hoping that it's going to be weaker than what they're predicting. Perhaps we'll have more of an average winter, maybe with average temperatures and rainfall,” Huebner said.

With increasingly warmer winters, Huebner is adding trees that require fewer chill hours. He hopes this diversity will help in yearly fruit production.

"We're trying to diversity and perhaps if this problem of low chill hits us again, maybe with this other variety of peach trees; we still have a peach crop,” added Huebner.

Keep in mind that even an average winter can hurt fruit crops. If you have the required chill hours, warm spells can put added stress on the plants.