JOHNSTON, S.C. — Freezing temperatures in late March ruined the early South Carolina peach harvest, leaving consumers waiting until July for summertime’s tasty fruit.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley toured the damage Monday at J.W. Yonce and Sons Inc. peach orchards, a leading producer in the state’s prime peach-growing region. The orchards and packing plant were void of migrant workers who would normally be busy preparing fruit for shipment across South Carolina and the East Coast.
“You’re looking behind me at what looks like a beautiful orchard, but if you look close to the trees, there are no peaches on them. They are bare,” Haley said.
Between 38 percent and 45 percent of peach trees at the Yonce farm sustained devastating damage when temperatures dropped into the low 20s for more than four hours overnight March 26, farmer Larry Yonce said. Very few South Carolina peaches will be for sale until freestone varieties ripen at the beginning of July.
“We know that we’ve experienced a dramatic event,” he said.
The freeze damaged early-variety trees because flower petals had begun to fall off the blooms. Later varieties were in full bloom, so petals insulated the peach embryo from low temperatures.
“The great news is we’ve got fruit the end of June, through July into August,” Yonce said.
State Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said loss of the early peach market caused an estimated $80 million hit to the state’s economy.
South Carolina ranks No. 2 in the nation for peach production, behind California.
Yonce said migrant workers were furloughed or allowed to return home to visit family. Labor will return in mid-June for harvest.
The last major freeze to hit the South Carolina peach crop was on Easter morning in April 2007. Known as the “Easter freeze,” it ruined 90 percent of the state’s crop.
Haley urged residents to support local farmers and buy South Carolina products.
“When you go into your grocery store, we want you to buy peaches. We want you to buy South Carolina peaches,” she said. “Ask your grocer where and when they’re going to be there. Ask them why we have California peaches in there when July comes around.”