Because of a lack of chill hours last winter, Southeast peach volumes should be significantly lower than normal, and an early end to the season is likely.

Early variety volumes could be up to 30% below normal this season, said Will McGehee, salesman with Genuine Georgia Group and Pearson Farm, Fort Valley, Ga. Late-season variety losses could be closer to 35%, he said.

“The mild winter has taken effect,” McGehee said May 22. “Supplies are going to be tight pretty much all summer.”

Charles Hall, executive director of the La Grange-based Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, agreed.

“What I’ve heard from growers is the weather didn’t help us,” he said. “I haven’t heard any real numbers but it will be a smaller crop.”

To help compensate for lower volumes, Georgia shippers will do everything they can to keep f.o.b.s up until shipments wind down in late July, at least two weeks earlier than normal, McGehee said.

Some South Carolina product could ship into August, he said.

Demand was very strong at the start of the deal, he said, with most peaches shipping the day they were picked.

“The trucks have been lining up, waiting for what’s picked that morning,” he said. “It’s been fast and furious.”

On May 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $20.65 for one-half bushel cartons of yellow-flesh peaches 2 1/2 inches and larger, up from $16.40 last year at the same time.

Excellent quality has helped stoke that demand, said Robert Dickey III, vice president of Dickey Farms Inc., Musella, Ga.

“Fruit has good color and high sugars,” he said. “We’ve seen good reception.”

Hall also reported very good quality on early fruit, and he said that as the deal progressed, sizing would likely return to more normal levels.

Size has been smaller than what Dickey Farms anticipated earlier in the season, but Dickey expected that to improve as the deal progressed.

With lighter volumes, one challenge Southeast shippers will face is keeping customers supplied with Georgia and South Carolina peaches, as opposed to fruit from California, Dickey said.

“We hope to be able to cover all these orders, and keep (California) out. We have a good crop, just not a bumper crop.”

Volumes will increase as mid-season varieties start to replace early-season varieties, Dickey said.