Everyone knows it – the giant peach that looms over Interstate 65 in Clanton. The painted water tower is a proud symbol of Chilton County’s $5 million peach industry which draws thousands of visitors each year.
“Well I always stop here when I come to Clanton to get tomatoes, peaches, vegetables, whatever. And the peach cake always. It’s rich, yummy and good. Real good!”
Arlene Parnell of Birmingham was one of many Easter weekend travelers streaming in and out of Headley’s veggie stand, which sits in the shadow of the water tower. They were all anxious about the peach crop.
Growers were anxious too. They tried everything they could to save the young fruit. They burned coal in barrels and turned on giant fans to keep the frost off. They even tried enlisting military helicopters to hover overhead and keep the air circulating, but the choppers weren’t available. Roger Mims, who’s got 40 acres of trees, says he resorted to prayers.
“I don’t think it’ll put me out of business. I can’t speak for everybody, but it’s possible it could put some people out of business, yes…”
Mims says it’ll be several days before he knows how bad the damage is. Saturday night was the coldest. Yesterday morning he went into his orchard and found some fruit – still the size of grapes – brown on the inside. That’s a bad sign, says Mims.
“Well, there’d be a lot of people out of work that’s normally works in the orchards during the summer times. And a lot of money that’s normally spent on chemicals, fertilizer and other things. Now a lot of that’s been done spent. But a lot more would be spent if we make a crop, but if we don’t it won’t be spent. So it’ll be very noticeable in this county.”
Back at Headley’s vegetable stand, owner Linda Cleckler says she could take a hit too.
“I’ll have to cut my workers back. Instead of unloading 200, 300 baskets of peaches, we might not be unloading any!”
Alabama’s agriculture commissioner says if the weather damage is severe the final price tag could be several million dollars.