Georgia peach growers suffered worst season since 1955.
Originally printed in the July 2023 issue of Produce Business.
Retail opportunities to promote the U.S. peach crop will be strong this summer, running into late September.
Peach growers in California and New Jersey are reporting strong crops. This production picks up supplies after weather devastated the early season in Georgia.
New Jersey industry veteran Jerry Frecon describes the 2023 New Jersey peach crop as heavy, with “peaches on our trees in 95% of our orchards. We should have peaches through Labor Day and produce about 25 million pounds of peaches for the season.”
This is a full crop, adds Frecon, who is retired from the Rutgers University faculty. An advisor to the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council for 42 years, he is now working as a part-time consultant.
California also appears to have a full peach crop, according to Doug LaCroix, director of sales and marketing for Family Tree Farms, Reedley, CA. This is not a bumper crop, he adds, “but we expect good supply, sizing and quality this season.”
Stephen Paul, category director at Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, CA, says the 2023 California peach crop has been produced with “very erratic weather.”
Overall, the peach industry is within 50 miles, so when there is a cold spell, the entire industry is affected, Paul explains. “This year is down a little in volume, but there will be enough peaches for promotion in July,” which is California’s peak peach and stone fruit production month.
Paul expects to see supplies tighten in August, with the deal expected to end after the third week of August. Flavor profiles and the eating quality are good, and sizes are up, he adds. “We have really, really nice size, color and eating quality.”
Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa’s/World Wide Variety Produce, based in Los Angeles, offers that a cooler winter with excessive rain delayed California’s peach crop three or four weeks, so it took longer for flavor and sweetness to develop this year. The peak of the season is June and July, and Melissa’s expects to ship California peaches into late September or early October.
WEATHER HURT GEORGIA, BUT SUPPLY STRONG ELSEWHERE
Produce Business found Georgia peach shippers reluctant to discuss the crop, but Georgia reporter Sam Gringlas from WABE indicated that roughly 90% of the crop was destroyed this spring. It was the worst peach destruction in Georgia since 1955.
Gringlas explained that to set fruit, peaches require a minimum number of chill hours below 45 degrees. But the first three months of this year were the warmest on record in Georgia, then growers did get the cold they needed, but right when trees were blooming — a spurt of unlucky freezing weather. New low-chill peach varieties were perfectly fine with the warm weather. So, they bloomed, and then came four devastating nights under 28 degrees.
Bonnie Lundblad is on the New Jersey Peach Council and the senior salesman for the state’s largest peach shipper, Sunny Valley International, Glassboro, NJ. “The expectations for this season are very optimistic. Unfortunately, the growing regions to the south of New Jersey are struggling this season to get any traction and consistency with shipments,” Lundblad says. “As the only Eastern peach with a large commercial crop this year, New Jersey is very hopeful for excellent demand.”
Similarly, LaCroix of Family Tree expects a strong market this year. “The Southern crop was hurt this spring and will lead to increased demand on ours. So, we are expecting strong demand and good markets for peaches.”
PACKAGED OR BULK?
Schueller of Melissa’s, notes, of the world’s peach producing areas, “California has the longest season. So, retailers take advantage of the extended season with great ads and merchandise peaches on large end cap displays.”
Melissa’s works with individual retailers to provide customized, laminated, waterproof signage, and Schueller stresses his firm works with retailers ranging from those with a few stores to the country’s largest chains.
“We do not have the cheapest price, but we offer a tasty experience and have extra marketing to communicate to the consumer.”
Lundblad of Sunny Valley reports that, since the pandemic, there is an “increased demand for bagged produce, including peaches. This demand has remained strong, but there’s also excellent demand for all types of packaging. With inflation being a factor in many decisions across the produce industry, having many packaging options available aids in making best decisions for each company.”
Homegrown Organic Farms is placing a QR code on all of its peach packaging. This internet link provides background, including grower profiles, emphasizing their values and application of sustainable practices for future generations of farmers. The QR code leads to “Grown By” 5-minute documentary videos introducing growers and their farms, and explains what drives growers to offer to consumers, via retailers, quality products.
Stephen Paul is a fourth-generation farmer and likes the opportunity to “tell consumers our family history and what it means to farm.” A digital promotion presents “the unique opportunity to tell the family’s story and helps consumers have an awareness.”
The Homegrown website has a branded “Who’s Your Farmer” section, which details 17 of the grower-families affiliated with Homegrown Organic. Homegrown’s stone fruit growers are all certified by EFI – the Equitable Food Initiative, which brings greater transparency to the supply chain while helping the produce industry address some of its toughest issues like labor, sustainability and food safety.
To highlight its peaches with the best-available flavor, Melissa’s packs Organic Peach Bites. Schueller explains this is a large clamshell of five to eight organic peaches. “It’s all about flavor. Varieties change about every two weeks. The clamshell weighs about a pound, and the peaches tend to be small, but taste great.”
Melissa’s diverse peach category list includes regular conventional and organic peaches, as well as Saturn peaches, organic white and Flavorcrest peaches, Masumoto Farm Organic Peaches and organic Peach Bites.
Frecon says New Jersey peach grower-packers offer a variety of shipping and retail display containers. There are also many new varieties, he adds, but since New Jersey peaches are not sold by varietal name, these are not of much importance to handlers and consumers. “Most of our varieties are yellow-fleshed, freestone, with some white-fleshed as well as flat (Donut) peaches, white and yellow fleshed nectarines.”
New Jersey growers will ship peaches anywhere in the Eastern, Southern, and Midwestern states, as well as into Canada, Frecon said, but the promotional program is focused in New Jersey and areas of New York and Philadelphia.
LaCroix of Family Tree notes that cost increases continue to squeeze razor-thin margins. “These increases force us to continually evaluate production efficiency. We are experimenting with production changes, like dwarfing rootstocks in the field and harvest-platforms to keep our farmworkers off of ladders. We are also looking at more efficient ways to pack our fruit, as well as finding more profitable solutions for small fruit and blemished fruit.
Frecon said a few New Jersey growers produce organic peaches, but generally, disease pressure on New Jersey peaches “is too great to use the organic pesticides recommended and used by organic growers in California and Washington, where most organic peaches are grown.”