Peach lovers enjoy bountiful harvest

TRENTON, S.C. --- If the peach juice dribbling down your chin seems a little tastier this year, it's because farmers are seeing one of their sweetest crops in years.

Sherrie Harmon, who manages Sara's Stand on U.S. Highway 25 in Trenton, said a lot of customers were surprised when they tasted the first round of peaches in May to find that they weren't too hard and they wouldn't have to wait until July to get their best peaches.

"It's been absolutely amazing," she said. "I don't know what it is. It's got to be God and irrigation guns. I just tell people to try it and taste it. We don't have to sell anything. Everyone's coming by word of mouth."

Paul and Terri Thaxton, of Evans, have driven past four major peach stands for the past 20 years just to get to Sara's Stand, which carries peaches from Titan Farms in Ridge Spring.

"You can break them open with your thumb and just eat them straight," Paul Thaxton said.

Terri Thaxton said that in years past she's seen crops damaged or bruised from too many frosts, but this year's was one of the prettiest she's seen.

"I think it's the abundance of thundershowers," she said.

Amy London, the South Carolina Peach Council marketing director, said a mild winter and dry spring created the perfect crop of peaches. "We do have more volume than we've had in years past because the weather was the perfect situation to grow a peach," she said.

Recent thunderstorms have also helped to calm the sweltering Southern heat, a welcome reprieve for production employees boxing shipments, she said.

South Carolina expects more than $45 million in commercial sales this year, and volume has almost surpassed last year's shipments. Last year, 1,800 truck loads were shipped all year. This summer, 1,100 trucks have already been shipped. More than 2 million bushels are sold each year.

Good peaches for customers could mean less revenue for farmers, though. Jeff Wainwright, the owner of Taylor Orchards in Reynolds, Ga., said the high volume flooding the market will mean farmers will have to wait until the end of the season to see how profits shake out.

"If you've got a big enough peach that's high volume, you can probably beat the market," he said.

Taylor Orchards ships about 800,000 to 1 million boxes a year.

Peach harvesting will continue until mid-August, with produce available until early fall.