Plenty of peaches for local shoppers

Shoppers who love peaches will find plenty of fruit at local roadside stands now and through the rest of the summer, but the peaches in most chain grocery stores this summer are likely to be from California.

 

Forecasts for an 80 percent crop loss, made in March after three devastating nights of freezing temperatures, have held true, according to Sonny Yonce of Big Smile Peaches in Johnston. He has workers picking in his fields, but his packing and shipping operation isn’t working right now.

“It’s spotty,” he said. “There’s a few on a few trees that maybe we pick in baskets.”

In a couple of weeks, he hopes later-ripening fruit varieties will provide enough volume to crank up packing for shipment outside the area.

It’s the same story across the state, said Matt Cornwell of the South Carolina Peach Council.

“You’ll find peaches locally, but getting them to retailers, grocery stores, that kind of volume is still a challenge,” he said. “Farmers are picking some fruit now. Maybe they’ll have shippable volume in July.”

Georgia’s peaches were hit hard, too, so “for the first time in many years, the South has very few peaches,” Yonce said.

Selling through markets is still a viable business, he said, just not as profitable as commercial sales.

“This state is fairly big on baskets, and you’ll see fruit in roadside stands,” he said. “That’s a business that’s bigger than we think in this state.”

The Ridge area celebrated the industry and the crop this weekend during the annual Ridge Peach Festival in Trenton.

But how farmers will fare financially is still a question mark, Yonce said.

“Right now we really don’t know what the bottom line is,” he said.

Greg Henderson, area commercial horticulture agent for Clemson Extension Service in Edgefield, said varieties that will be picked in July — including Scarlet Prince and July Prince — could reflect only a 60 percent crop loss. However, some of it will show blemishes from the cold’s impact and those don’t ship well, even though the fruit is fine.

Farmers like Yonce, who have mechanized packing operations, can make sliced peaches or peach puree.

“Commercial packers live and die in the marketplace on whether fruit is a No. 1 peach or a No. 2. (A No. 2 is basically a piece of fruit that’s got anything wrong with it),” he said. “But a packing operation can process a No. 2 peach.”

Henderson said commercial prices are up about 50 percent right now, but could drop as volume increases in July.

A check of several Edgefield fruit-and-vegetable stands found a peck basket selling for about $22, which was only about $2 more than last year. Half-pecks go for about $12. Stands vary in pricing smaller baskets.

Cornwell, of the state Peach Council, spoke for the entire industry when he said he hopes folks will buy as much as they have in past seasons.

“Local growers need those local consumers,” he said. Farmers have already put in their money.”

Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or james.folker@augustachronicle.com

Peach facts:

South Carolina has the second-largest peach crop in the nation. California is first. South Carolina produces about twice as many peaches as Georgia, despite its nickname as “the Peach State.”

There are 14,000 acres of peach trees along the state’s “Ridge” area, which includes Edgefield County.

In years when crops aren’t hurt by late freezes, Ridge growers ship about 35-40 tractor-trailer loads a day.

The South Carolina peach industry grosses approximately $50 million annually and employs over a thousand people.

For information on roadside stands, including directions, visit agriculture.sc.gov and click “Where to Buy Local,” then “Certified Roadside Markets.”

 

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