For years South Carolina, the largest peach producer on the East Coast, has topped Georgia, the Peach State, in peach production.
“South Carolina is still leading 3-to-1 over Georgia,” said South Carolina Peach Council executive director Amy Howard London.
So far this year, the Palmetto State has shipped 23.5 million pounds of peaches.
But this year’s cold spring, especially in March, damaged many South Carolina crops lowering production numbers, said London.
Temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit make the plants on the trees shut down metabolic functioning, which means they stop growing. Temperatures below 29 degrees Fahrenheit also hurt the plants, London said.
The good news, she said, is that the peaches that survived are bigger and sweeter than usual. But don’t get too excited. Remaining crops are now being affected by heavy summer showers.
Sonny Yonce, co-owner of J.W. Yonce & Sons, producers of Big Smile Peaches in Johnston, said the heavy rainfall this year is hurting their crops.
“We’re having to constantly spray fungicide, then we get them rained off every night,” Yonce said. “The excessive water is starting to cause some problems.” Peaches have a tendency to rot with excess water, he said.
Production is down only slightly from last year for Big Smile Peaches and ripening is two weeks later that usual. Yonce said the more than 4,000 acre, family-operated farm near the Savannah River produces 25 million to 30 million pounds of peaches each year.
Domestically, California is the largest producer of peaches, with 713,000 tons produced in 2012. That same year South Carolina produced 95,000 tons and Georgia 36,000 tons.
During the 2011-2012 season the United States production of the peach was also down because of hail storms and freezing spring temperatures.
According to a September 2012 report by the United States Department of Agriculture, China dominates in peach production globally accounting for more than half the world’s total peach production.
Yonce said at one point in history Fort Valley, Ga. in Peach County was a top producer of peaches.
“I don’t think we have many more growers than Georgia, but most of our operations are somewhat bigger and our production is higher,” Yonce said.
London said South Carolina peaches are preferred by most consumers because they are sweeter than those grown in other states and countries, due to the alkalinity in the soil.
Peach lovers can visit Gaffney, a city with a four-story water tower in the shape of a peach, for the annual state Peach Festival this weekend.
For more information on South Carolina peaches, including recipes, go to scpeach.org.
Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.