(WSAV) Peach growers in Georgia and South Carolina are reeling from losses in a season that will be remembered for one of the lowest yields in more than 50 years. Will McGehee, Marketing Director for the Georgia Peach Council says 2017 ranks in the Top 5 worst. “When you go back across time, you’ve got 1955, we lost pretty much the entire peach crop. 1975 and we had about 3% of a peach crop. 1996, 8%, 2007 was brutal again. And now this year so, you, it’s, it’s going to rank in the top five, top five worst in the last 50 years.” McGehee said from the Council’s headquarters in Peach County, Georgia. 90% of the state’s peaches are grown in the Fort Valley region, where major producers, like Lane Southern Orchards, usually grows millions of pounds of the fruit. Production houses are usually buzzing with activity through mid-august, but CEO, Mark Sanchez says they were forced to shut down those harvest operations in the beginning of July. ” We closed this facility, the packing house, on July 4. It was our last run. And that was due to the bad weather last winter. After July 4 it’s really shut down. We didn’t have anything left after that.” Sanchez said. A warm winter and a freeze event in March have put a chill on the 2017 peach harvest in Georgia and South Carolina.
The losses are being felt far beyond the orchards and the farmers. “You’ve got an entire industry built on these peaches being picked all the way from transportation companies to local help that comes out here to help you to your own family, the guys that are here to do the picking. The box manufacturers, and the guys who put the stickers on the peaches. It affects the entire industry much more than just the farmer that everybody’s used to seeing. It’s a pretty big hit for the whole, you know, ancillary businesses built off of the Georgia peach industry too.” McGehee said.
South Carolina peach producers rank second in the nation, but this year’s harvest is so lean, Tommy Chappell of Chappell Farms in Allendale County, could not hire 95% of the workforce he normally employs to harvest his 1,000-acre peach orchard. “It hurts. It hurts all the way, you know, from the grower to I think even, even up to the consumer. You know some consumers really prefer a southern peach. “My early varieties got enough and then they bloomed and started growing, but March 14 or 13th came along and it went to 23° and it wiped out them in so I didn’t have you know any peaches then,” Chappell said.
South Carolina lost 90% of the peach crop this year. In Georgia, 80% of the harvest was lost. Estimates say there’s a multi-million dollar loss industry-wide when you combine the short crop of the fruit in the Peach and Palmetto States. For consumers, it means peach prices are at a premium. Stokes Produce in Savannah’s Farmer’s market reports skyrocketing prices on peaches. Last year they sold a half-bushel of peaches for $15. This year the same half-bushel costs $45. Farmers in Georgia and South Carolina are hoping for a rebound with the 2018 peach harvest. “This doesn’t happen very often. When it happens it’s awful but, you know, history says we’re gonna be right back at it next year and working just as hard or harder than we ever have.” McGehee said, a sentiment echoed by Sanchez, ” It wasn’t, it wasn’t a good year for the peach harvest. We had the same issues back in 2007 which was actually a freeze event, that killed a lot of peaches. We lost 95% of our crop that year. So it’s just, it’s just, while it’s unusual, it does happen. I mean it’s just part of farming. It’s been one of those years where, where, you know, we are fortunate to have what we did have. We are very blessed and we’re glad to have it. We look forward to next year.” said Sanchez.