Sunshine State peaches take off - The Packer

Sunshine State peaches take off

02/28/2014 10:07:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern EditorDoug Ohlemeier, Eastern EditorThis year’s Florida peach season begins with increased acreage and more growers.

As one of the Sunshine State’s newest crops commences, a recent study finds growers can find success and profitability growing the crop, which is only in its fifth year.

Growers should expect to invest $6,400 per acre during the first year and $5,200 per acre for the second year, with returns of $1,800 in the third year. The third year brings the first year of commercial production.

By the fourth year, the average grower can expect to glean $4,700 in per-acre returns as trees mature and provide stable production, said Mercy Olmstead, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences stone fruit extension specialist.

Olmstead, who gets calls every week from growers considering investing in peaches, studied budgets of growers who converted citrus land to peaches.

Production is focused south of Interstate 4 in Plant City, Fla., in the Indian River region.

Harvesting typically begins in early March in south Florida and starts in early April in central Florida.

Acreage has increased from 670 acres in 2011 to nearly 1,300 acres this year, though Olmstead said some growers are a bit optimistic and estimating that number as closer to 2,000 acres. Last year, growers produced 2.5 million to 3 million pounds. This year, Olmstead predicts the state’s 45 growers will produce 4.7 million pounds.

Commercial buyer demand remains strong for peaches and growers should continue to increase production to upward of 5,000 acres, she said.

To effectively handle the increasing production, Olmstead said she hopes for a slow and steady growth instead of a big boom. Packinghouses are signing up growers.

“The key to those steady increases is having those other packinghouses come online to ship peaches to the buyers,” Olmstead said in late February.

“Right now, there’s lots of demand for the Florida peach, especially when you pick up peaches at this point in the season in the grocery store when two out of three have some sort of chill injury. That turns people off from wanting to buy peaches again.”

One of the state’s largest citrus packinghouses, the Dundee Citrus Growers Association, is one of the biggest packers of Florida peaches.

This season, production is expected to jump to more than 1 million pounds from the 400,000 pounds it packed last year, said Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for Florida Classic Growers, its Dundee, Fla.-based marketing arm.

Dundee’s growers plan to begin harvesting tree-ripened fruit in mid-March.

“There is big demand for Florida peaches and we have lots of people interested in our program,” Finch said. “Demand is outstanding and we were able to bring on a few additional retail groups last year.”

With volume expanding, Florida can ship to other markets, he said.

Much of this season’s increased demand follows Chile’s freezes and retailers are inquiring when they can switch to domestic peaches, he said.

Many of Dundee’s orange growers have planted peaches as an alternative crop and Finch says he sees demand and volume continuing to increase.

Production usually finishes by mid-May, in time for the start of Georgia’s crop.

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