Published on 07/06/06

Georgia peach crop extra sweet this year

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia peach farmers are almost halfway finished harvesting their famous crop for this year. Volume is up. The sugar is high. And prices are good, says a University of Georgia specialist.

"Georgia's peach crop looks great, and the quality is really good this year," said Kathy Taylor, a UGA Cooperative Extension peach horticulturist.

Georgia farmers expect to pick 50,000 tons this year, about 25 percent more than last year, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service. A cool, wet spring in 2005 caused disease problems for last year's crop.

Georgia's peach trees got the number of chill hours (hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit) this winter they needed to prepare for a good summer crop, Taylor said.

A dry, warm spring and early summer this year forced peach farmers to irrigate their crop more, she said. About 65 percent of Georgia's 16,000 acres are irrigated.

Though the weather may keep total production below expectations, Taylor said, it was perfect for peaches to make sugar and good flavor.

"Too much water dilutes the flavor," she said, "much like too much water in a Kool-Aid recipe."

The flavor of peaches in south Georgia is influenced by weather starting in late March. For peaches grown in middle Georgia, it's late April.

"Consumers may be able to notice that Georgia peaches are a little sweeter this year," she said.

Peach brokers like to buy peaches with a total sugar content of more than 12 percent. Georgia's peaches are consistently coming in above that this year, she said.

"The buyers like that they're getting good-flavored peaches," she said.

And they've been willing to pay for them, she said. Brokers have been paying around $15 per half-bushel, or about 24 pounds, a decent price for this time of year.

Along with Georgia's good quality, a poorer-than-expected California crop has helped keep prices up, she said.

Barely adequate chill hours and a cool, wet spring has hurt California peaches. California, the No. 1 U.S. peach-producing state, is expected to produce 380,000 tons, about 21 percent less than last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.