While mid-Atlantic peach trees appear to have weathered spring freezes fairly well, peaches from Georgia and South Carolina are suffering a tough start for different reasons.
“Because of a lack of cold hours, the fruit is teardrop-shaped rather than round and sizing is small,” said Mike Jardina, chief executive officer of Forest Park, Georgia-based J.J. Jardina Inc.
“Everybody’s got 2 ¼- and 2 1/8-inch sizes and there are very few 2 ½-inch peaches, which most of the chains need,” said Jardina, who expects to pull from California to fill orders for larger fruit.
“There are lots of peaches on the tree, but it’s going to be a small size year,” he said.
Michael Blume, commodity manager for peaches at Greencastle Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., said he was hoping for a better size in June, but it may end up mostly 2-1/2-inch, with not a lot of 2-3/4 peaches.
Blume said Keystone wasn’t able to cover the strong demand for larger fruit in May.
Prices on 2-1/2-inch fruit is higher due to the limited availability, he said, while pricing on smaller fruit is normal.
“Quality is excellent,” Blume said, “with high brix and very good red blush.”
Keystone started picking and packing Georgia and South Carolina peaches May 1, about two weeks earlier than normal.
Blume expects good supplies through the summer, finishing in August.
“New Jersey peaches are on track to start in early July, followed by West Virginia and Pennsylvania peaches by the end of July,” he said.
After surviving at least six nights of frost and freezing temperatures in April and May, Steve Balderston of Colora, Md.-based Colora Orchards is grateful for crop insurance.
“We had a lot more damage than we originally thought,” said Balderston. “What we have left is probably 80% of a normal peach crop, and five out of 15 varieties are going to yield 10%.”
Curt Fifer, Director of sales for Wyoming, Del.-based Fifer Orchards, said his 200 acres of peaches and nectarines are looking good, though the crop isn’t quite as large as last year’s.
“We had some scares but no damage from frost,” said Fifer, who grows on 2,000 acres in the center of the Delmarva peninsula.
Henry Chiles, owner of Batesville, Va.-based Crown Orchard Co., said his 500 acres of yellow, white and donut peaches and yellow and white nectarines also escaped harm, thanks to wind machines and other drastic measures.
Chiles expects to start harvesting peaches July 1, a week to 10 days earlier than normal.
Blume said overall demand for peaches is greater than it’s ever been, yet transportation is a struggle.
“We expect trucks will be hard to find all summer long,” he said, “but with some notice, we’ll be able to get all orders delivered.”