Georgia peach farmers brace for big losses

News 3 visited one of the largest peach growers in the state to talk about the 2017 peach harvest. [WSAV Chris Murray]

FORT VALLEY, Ga. (WSAV) — Georgia peach producers are bracing for big losses with the 2017 crop.

The peach harvest is well underway but it’s shaping up to be one of the worst in decades. Some published reports estimate losses in excess of $55 million dollars this season, a warmer than normal winter is getting the blame.

Mark Sanchez, CEO of Lane Southern Orchard, a major peach producer in Peach County, says peach trees need sustaining cool weather to crank out a good crop.

“Peaches need a certain amount of cold weather every year for the trees to go completely dormant and set the really good buds that have a nice healthy bloom the next year. This past year we only had 500 hours of temperatures below 45-degrees between the months of October and February. Typically we want 850 to 1,000 hours.” Sanchez said.

Will McGehee, Marketing Director for the Georgia Peach Council, describes the impact of this year’s weather as, “Catastrophic!

We should be picking peaches, based on variety, all the way through the end of August and we won’t be picking any after the first week in July” said McGehee, who adds “The 2017 peach crop will be about 20-percent of a normal yield.” McGehee said.

Economics 101 kicks in as diminished supply increases prices. McGehee estimates a 60-percent price hike in Georgia peaches by the end of August.

Some operations, like Lane Southern Orchard, will bear the blow to the budget with Agra-tourism attractions like their Country Store.

It started as a typical roadside peach stand in the 1980’s and now brings in 350,000 visitors a year.

“It’s growing exponentially. it’s, it’s how a lot of small farmers really, can kinda stay in the business. It’s a great tool not only from a marketing standpoint but from an educational standpoint, It’s amazing how many people just don’t understand where their food comes from.” Sanchez said.

For the people wondering where their Georgia peaches will come from later in the season, Sanchez says you may have to make a road trip into the heart of the state if what you crave is a genuine Georgia peach.

“In the grocery stores, it’ll be a little harder to find Lane peaches, later in the summer, but here at our farmhouse location, we’ve got plenty of peaches.” Sanchez said with a smile. Right now, Georgia peaches are readily available in grocery stores and roadside stands across the state. But McGehee estimates the prices will begin to rise by the middle of July.

Right now, Georgia peaches are readily available in grocery stores and roadside stands across the state. But McGehee estimates the prices will begin to rise by the middle of July.

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