EDGEFIELD COUNTY, S.C. — About 85 percent of the Edgefield County peach crop was wiped out by three straight nights of below-freezing temperatures last week, according to Sonny Yonce of Big Smile Peaches in Johnston.
The 15 percent that remains might be enough to satisfy local demand, but the packing sheds won’t operate this summer because there won’t be enough to ship elsewhere, Yonce said.
“It’s a devastating blow,” he said. “How any fruit made it, I really can’t explain.”
The South Carolina Peach Council held a conference call Monday and afterward issued a news release saying 10-15 percent of the crop remained statewide.
“Peach-lovers can still expect to see local peaches in July and August in limited quantities,” the release said.
Statewide, strawberries experienced about a 15 percent loss, according to the council. Midland and Upstate blueberry farmers reported similar losses to peaches.
“Peaches are a signature South Carolina crop, and this weather anomaly has devastated peach farmers,” said Hugh Weathers, state commissioner of agriculture.
Freezes this bad seem to come at 10-year intervals. The last time the crop was so heavily damaged was 2007, Yonce said, and before that, 1996.
In 2007, the Peach Council said 90 percent of the crop was lost statewide.
This year’s freeze will also have a chilling effect on local and state economies.
“Peach farms are major economic drivers in rural communities and support over 1,500 jobs statewide,” according to the Peach Council.
Yonce noted that the damage will hurt everyone from the farmers to the laborers who pick the fruit and the roadside stands.
He also observed that what’s left of the crop still might face more cold weather before Easter, the traditional time when freezing is considered unlikely.
South Carolina is the largest peach-producing state on the East Coast and is second only to California nationally. The annual peach crop has a value of $90 million with a $300 million economic impact, according to the Peach Council.
Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.