With Georgia production down, peaches are pricier

From The Packer | 20 June 2023

Overview of peaches in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on June 14, 2023. 

Peaches are in shorter supply in the U.S. Southeast this year, and consumers are paying the price.

While the USDA has not released a 2023 crop production estimate for peaches yet, reports from Georgia indicate substantial crop loss.

Some Georgia industry observers say many growers have suffered devastating losses to their crops from a combination of weather factors, including a March freeze. Peach harvest in Georgia usually begins in May and ends in August.

The shorter crop in Georgia and a later start in California resulted in stronger peach prices this June compared with a year ago.

PRICE SPIKE

On June 9, about 25,200 grocery retail stores were promoting peaches at an average price of $1.70, according to the USDA retail report.

In contrast, last year at the same time, 36,124 grocery stores were promoting peaches at an average price of $1.54, the retail report said. In 2021, about 38,700 grocery stores promoted peaches at an average price of $1.16.

peach prices by history

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Grower prices for peaches were also running higher in mid-June, the USDA reports. The average fob price for U.S. peaches was $33.45 per carton on June 10, up from $20.50 per carton at the same time a year ago.

WORST CASE FOR THE PEACH STATE

The 2023 peach crop in Georgia is a “worst case scenario,” said Phillip Brannen, extension fruit specialist at the University of Georgia.

Warmer-than-normal winter temperatures were punctuated by a March freeze and then followed immediately by hotter-than-normal temperatures.

The peach trees didn’t receive enough chill hours during the winter to produce a strong crop, he said, and the March cold snap damaged the fruit further. That was a double whammy to growers, Brannen said.

Growers in middle Georgia may have only 5% to 10% of a crop, and whatever harvesting there is will be accomplished by bagging fruit in the field rather than running their packing lines, Brannen said. Many H-2A field workers typically brought in for Georgia’s peach harvest have been sent home, he said.

Many growers are now dealing with crop insurance adjusters to attempt to recoup some of their losses. “This is a real hit as far as production,” Brannen said.

In 2022, Georgia’s 24,800 tons of peaches ranked a distant third in the U.S., trailing California’s 475,000 tons, and South Carolina’s 67,400 tons.

Brannen said he has heard that South Carolina’s peach crop fared somewhat better than Georgia’s but also is far less than its full potential.

An extension source at Clemson University told The Packer that in the Ridge growing area, the biggest peach area in South Carolina, some growers have as little as 10% of a full crop and most have about 20% of a full crop. However, at least a couple of growers are expecting 30% or more of a full crop, in part because of the use of wind machines during a cold snap.

South Carolina will have much more volume than Georgia but much of it might not get packed, the source said.  The season also has advanced two to three weeks for many mid- and late-season varieties so South Carolina will likely be finished by early August, especially in regard to packing the fruit.

New Jersey, the seventh-ranked peach state in 2022 with 7,000 tons, will have a good crop this year, industry leaders there said.

Growers have a heavy crop of peaches in about 95% of the state’s orchards, Jerry Frecon, professor emeritus at Rutgers University and consultant to the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council, said in a news release.

“Our proximity to a large population makes it easy to react quickly to fulfill the needs of customers, thereby sustaining sales without any gaps,” he said in the release.

CALIFORNIA CRUISING

The biggest supplier of U.S. peaches is in good shape, said Ian LeMay, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association.

California tree fruit shippers told The Packer earlier this season that full crops of tree fruit were expected from that state in June, July and August. The combination of ample water, plenty of chill hours and little stress on the trees should result in good quality and good sizing, shippers said.

LeMay said the later-than-usual start, about 10 to 14 days behind normal, was notable. However, he said harvest was active and increasing on June 14.

“We have a healthy crop, and what we’re hearing out of the orchards is that the fruit is eating probably the best it has in years and it is being sent all over the U.S. and all over the world,” he said. “We’re hoping that we can continue with a good summer.”

In early June, tree fruit producers in California were seeing unseasonably cool temperatures in the 70s and 80s, but temperatures were warming to the mid-90s by mid-June, LeMay said.

“We definitely have a crop that we’re looking forward to market this year,” he said.

Last year, California shippers marketed peaches from May into October, with best supplies in June, July and August.

The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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