Ga., S.C. lay claim to nation's best peaches

States lay claim to nation's best peaches

Visitors to the Augusta State Farmers Market might find themselves asking the same question: Where have all the sweet Georgia peaches gone?

South Carolina peaches were all that could be found in the row of fruit stands last week.

"Georgia at one time was the peach capital. We just don't know where to get 'em now," said Frank Bibbs, who sells peaches and other produce at the farmers market.

Bibbs brings bushels of fruit across the state line from farms in Edgefield and Saluda counties. These counties sit at a slightly higher elevation, called the Ridge, where higher temperatures are said to grow tastier peaches.

Farmer Alexander Kenner decided to grow peaches on a small Edgefield County family farm after he retired. Augusta isn't near Georgia's prime peach real estate. That's closer to Macon, he said.

The friendly rivalry is akin to Georgia-South Carolina football for Duke Lane III of Lane Packing Co. in Fort Valley, Ga.

"We feel pretty certain our peaches taste better, and so do they," Lane said. "South Carolina grows a really good peach, no doubt about that. But there's only one original."

Biting into a fresh peach is the only appropriate test for judging a fruit's tastiness, Lane said. Georgia's fruit tends to be sweeter thanks to a nutrient-rich clay soil and warmer summer nights compared to its counterpart, he said.

Dr. Desmond Layne, an associate professor of horticulture at Clemson University, said he's skeptical of the climate debate.

"The hot nights they have, we have, too," Layne said. "Wherever you call home and they have peaches, they are probably the best."

South Carolina has produced almost three times the output of Georgia peaches this year, Layne said. Many Georgia farmers are opting for a shorter peach season so they can also grow pecans, he said.

Despite the debate over which state grows the tastier peaches, South Carolina and Georgia still rank second and third, respectively, behind California, in terms of number of peaches produced. The West Coast state supplies almost half of the peaches in the United States, Layne said.

Tasty, sweet and juicy peaches are found closest to the tree they grow on, Layne said.

"I like the juice to drip off my elbows. Then you know it's ready to eat," he said.

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