Sweet juices from the first peaches plucked from the trees are already dripping down chins.
The largest orchards in South Carolina’s leading peach region – known as “the ridge” – have just finished their first full week of picking and packing. Peach farmers report a late start to the harvest, but healthy and tasty fruit.
“We are a month late here,” said farmer Sonny Yonce III. “Last year, we started around the first of May. This year, we started on the 23rd of May.”
The average start date for picking peaches in the area is May 15. The late start will push production into mid- to late September rather than a normal end around Labor Day.
An unseasonably cold March and milder nighttime temperatures that lingered into May delayed the harvest. Yonce, of J.W. Yonce & Sons in Johnston, S.C., and other nearby farms lost a small portion of their early variety peaches to a freeze in late March.
Chalmers Carr III, of Titan Farms in Ridge Spring, S.C., said his farm lost 40 percent of the early variety peaches. He expects the remainder of the harvest to produce about 80 percent of a full season.
“That makes it very tough for profits,” Carr said. “We’ll have to see how the rest of it goes.”
For consumers buying the first peaches to hit the stands, prices were above last year’s, Yonce said. Prices are expected to fall and stabilize as the season continues and supply increases, he said.
In a normal year, Titan Farms packs 50 millions pounds of peaches. The orchards cover 5,000 acres in Edgefield, Saluda and Aiken counties.
Carr started packing peaches May 24, nine days after his usual start because of the mild spring. Warm days like those in the past week help ripen peaches on the trees.
“We need good, sunny, warm days,” he said. “We need the South Carolina summer to come so we can get everyone some peaches.”
Cooler nights made for a sweeter tasting and plumper fruit, Yonce said. The farm dates to 1932, when his grandfather started growing peaches.
“Absolutely the color and taste is good,” he said. “Peaches are bright red and taste wonderful.”
At Cook’s Roadside Stand in Trenton, S.C., peaches sold Friday for $1.50 per pound. Two quarts cost $5 and two gallons of peaches cost $15.
South Carolina ranks as the second-largest peach producer in the nation, behind California. Georgia ranks third.
Farms in central Georgia’s peach growing region began packing fruits May 20, about one week later than normal and three weeks later than last year.
Al Pearson, of Pearson Farm in Fort Valley, Ga., about 25 miles south of Macon, said the early varieties were hurt by frost in April but a better crop is expected in June and July.
“When it’s all over, we’ll probably be about 75 or 80 percent (of a full crop),” he said.
Duke Lane III, of Lane Southern Orchards, also in Fort Valley, has a slightly better prediction of 85 percent to 90 percent of a full crop.