Georgia and South Carolina peach shippers expect big volumes and outstanding quality this spring, with deals beginning early and likely getting the jump on California fruit.

The South Carolina peach crop could be 7 to 10 days earlier than normal, with a start date of about May 12 expected for Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J., which markets peaches for Monetta, S.C.-based Cotton Hope Farms, said Phil Neary, Sunny Valley's director of operations and grower relations.

Combined with an expected late start in California, the southeast’s early start should mean strong demand in May, Neary said.

“Growers always say that if the southeast comes in at the same time or earlier than California, they’ll get off to a strong start,” he said.

Duke Lane III, vice president of sales for Fort Valley, Ga.-based Lane Packing LLC, also expects a strong start. Lane Packing’s deal was expected to get underway in mid-May, three to five days earlier than normal.

“There seems to be a lot of excitement for Georgia peaches, and we feel like we’re sitting on a bumper crop,” Lane said. “The early indications are Georgia will be a little earlier than California.”

On April 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $10-12 for two-layer tray packs of yellow-flesh peaches size 40-50s from Chile, down from $12-14 last year at the same time.

Higher freight costs also could be a playing a role in more retailers leaning toward Georgia product this year, Lane said.

Another factor is the quality of the crop.

“We’re still five or six weeks from harvest, but thus far we’ve had really ideal conditions,” Lane said. “We had an extremely cold winter, an early, dry, bloom and some very timely showers.”

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

“From what I’ve heard, everything is looking good,” Hall said April 11. “Blooms were good, chill hours were good. We had  a little cold snap last week, but I didn’t hear of any damage.”

The quality of the South Carolina crop also should be excellent, Neary said.

“The blooms were very healthy, and chill hours have been very good — the best in quite a few years,” he said. “The crop potential is for full levels at this point.”

Sunny Valley expects to ship about 500,000 half-bushel equivalents from South Carolina this season, up slightly from last year, due to maturing trees and expected high yields, Neary said.

Georgia peach acreage should be similar to last year, a little over 10,000 acres, Hall said.