The warm winter and frequent rains means peach season got off to an early and, by most accounts, strong start this year. But farmers and enthusiasts warn there’s a catch.
“People typically think about buying peaches into September, but it may be our supplies by that point in time will be way down almost to nil,” said Clemson University Extension Services fruit specialist Desmond Layne, “So, people shouldn’t be waiting to go out and get peaches. They should be getting them now.”
Layne, affectionately known as “Dr. Peach” to those in the agriculture community, says the end of July is typically the middle of South Carolina’s peach season. However, he predicts the roughly 18-week season will end in mid-August this year.
“We’re well ahead of schedule,” Layne said. He adds that the early start is good for Palmetto State farmers, who have to compete against the longer growing season of California– easily the nation’s biggest peach supplier. “When we can get into the market ahead of them… then we can maintain space in the market all up the East Coast.”
It also helps that Midwest crops from states like Michigan and Illinois suffered frost damage after the warm weather brought out early blossoms there, as well. Smaller crops in that region open up retail markets in the Midwest that would otherwise buy local in late summer, Layne said. However, California is South Carolina’s primary competition.
Layne said this has been a very good year for South Carolina’s peach crop overall. While peaches normally flourish in sunny, hot weather, they also require a good supply of water– water makes up the majority of a peach’s structure, after all. Following several years of drought-related problems, the state has seen more rain in summer 2012.
Most of South Carolina’s peaches are grown in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain region– especially in the “Ridge” area of Aiken, Edgefield, Lexington, and Saluda counties. Farms are also found in Cherokee, Chesterfield, Greenville, Spartanburg, and York Counties.