Peach growers await results

Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Titan Farms owner Chalmers Carr lost more than 90 percent of his peach crop in last year's cold snap. This year he's fighting to get back into the marketplace.

AIKEN --- Last April, Chalmers Carr had 197 migrant workers standing by at the Mexican border, ready to come pick peaches.

To get work visas to enter the United States, they just needed the OK from the owner of Ridge Spring's Titan Farms.

But after a cold Easter weekend, Mr. Carr turned them all away and sent another 60 workers already in Edgefield County home.

There was no need -- more than 90 percent of his peach crop was gone, obliterated by a cold snap that also nearly crippled production of the fruit statewide.

It was, Mr. Carr said, "devastating," not only to him and other growers, but to the community that would have reaped the benefits of those workers spending money here.

"If you'd been farming last year without crop insurance, you would not be in business today," he said.

He was worse off than other growers.

Sonny Yonce, of Yonce & Sons Peaches, fared better, although he won't say exactly how much. While others' crops were nearly wiped out, Mr. Yonce said at least 10 percent of his peaches survived, and hints at more than 20.

"We really were surprised," he said.

This year, Mr. Carr and Mr. Yonce are both worried about the weather.

A cold snap early last week had growers nervous when temperatures dipped into the high 20s and low 30s, but neither Mr. Yonce nor Mr. Carr suffered widespread damage.

Luckily, Mr. Carr explained, the peaches still have their "jackets" -- the shucks that protect them from the cold.

Once those jackets are gone, Mr. Carr said, "we can't take anything below freezing. Thirty-one does damage."

But both men have other worries. Mr. Carr said that he's fighting to get back into the marketplace after losing so much of his crop last year, and Mr. Yonce fears that there will be too many peaches up for grabs.

It's supply and demand, Mr. Yonce said. The more product there is, the lower the price.

So if East Coast growers and California both have "full fruit," he said, "let's just hope we can move all our fruit at above production price."

Peaches start going out in May to sellers up the Eastern seaboard and in the Southeast, Mr. Carr said.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.