Not since the early 1990s have Georgians had such promise for an abundant crop of sweet Georgia peaches. University of Georgia experts say this may indeed be a very good year.
“If everything works out well, it should be one of the best crops we've had in a decade,” says Kathy Taylor, a UGA Extension Service scientist in Fort Valley.
That means the weather must cooperate with growers for awhile.
Peaches are about 80 percent water. Timely rains, when the young fruit starts growing, helped get this year off to a good start.
“There's plenty of water,” says Taylor. “We're excited that we also had plenty of cold weather this winter.”
Peach trees need at least 850 hours of temperatures below 45 degrees — chill hours — to grow a bountiful crop.
“We've had a bumper crop of chill hours this year,” says Taylor. So far, most Georgia peach trees have had about 1,300 chill hours, the most in 19 years, and it shows.
“They generally were between $1 and $3 per pound. That may not be so relevant in Georgia. Peach growers have no control over the retail price. Produce brokers, not peach farmers, have the most influence over retail prices.”
“The buds have come on much earlier than normal,” she says. “Amid all of the pretty blooms and buds, little peaches already are growing, making them more susceptible to late-season frosts. The mid-March frost damaged some fruit — more in south Georgia because their crop comes earlier. But they still will have a crop this year.”
The frost only lightly thinned the crop in the remainder of the state, saving growers some labor costs. If frost stays away past Easter, consumers can expect to pay about the same retail prices as those paid last year.
“Prices varied last year depending on the retail source and location,” says Taylor. “They generally were between $1 and $3 per pound. That may not be so relevant in Georgia. Peach growers have no control over the retail price. Produce brokers, not peach farmers, have the most influence over retail prices.”
Georgia-grown peaches could hit the national and international markets first this year, as much as seven days earlier than those grown in rival California. That would give Georgia growers a significant economic advantage.
If Georgia peaches make it to market first, growers could get about 25 cents per pound. If not, producers could see prices as low as 15 cents per pound.
“In terms of taste, we'll probably have very good flavor if all of these weather conditions hold up well for us,” she says.