Peach year been ‘interesting’ for farmers

Published 3:35 pm Friday, July 30, 2010

As peak peach season comes to a close heading into August, area farmers see an unusual trend thanks to the late crop. The volume of remaining is considerably higher, much higher than years past, leading to what they’re calling a peach surplus.

Chilton Research and Extension Center superintendent James Pitts anticipates farmers and vendors continuing to pick and sell through August and perhaps even early September. Peach season typically ends in early August, but due to most peach crops arriving approximately two weeks later than anticipated, things have changed.

“I think we’ve still got another month of a strong volume of peaches,” Pitts said.

He said the best peaches arrived near the Fourth of July holiday, when many farmers were still picking June peaches. After the Fourth, traditionally farmers and vendors’ busiest sales period, Pitts said they usually see a lull in sales. He said his supply went up as the demand went down, causing the surplus, which he said shouldn’t have a long term negative effect.

“That’s thinned out by now,” he said. “Typically, our volume of peaches peak between mid-June and mid-July. They’re targeted towards the Fourth of July market. It will still be around the third or fourth week in August before we get weighed down with volume.”

Pitts cites the fluctuating travel of vacationers as a factor affecting 2010’s peach sales.

“People buy at fruit stands while on vacation,” he said. “They may splurge a little bit, and we try to take advantage of that. Traffic hasn’t been as strong as it has in years past.”

As for sizing up the summer’s returns so far, Pitts said the season has been “OK.” He said he’s had some issues with size with the peaches, perhaps due to the hot and dry conditions of June.

“I don’t know why,” he said. “These issues caught us off guard, and we don’t have a good reason as to why they haven’t performed. We knew we’d be picking big peaches in June, but now we’re picking small ones.

“It’s been an interesting season.”

But Pitts said the quality of the peaches hasn’t suffered at all. In fact, he said it’s as good as it ever has been mostly likely thanks to those dry conditions.

Jimmy Durbin of Sunshine Farms agrees with Pitts, though, about the strangeness of this season.

“It’s been a bumper crop,” he said. “There have been some bumps in the road with heat and dry weather that have affected the maturity and size of the peaches. It’s been a bumper crop nationwide that has affected the price.”

Alleviating any pressure on Durbin and Sunshine Farms are loyal customers. He said those who normally buy wholesale from him have yet to defect to out-of-state suppliers with lower prices.

“Right now, we have a bulk of peaches, and we have a good price,” Durbin said. “We sell a lot of number two peaches for a reduced price. It’s a good deal for people. The bulk of our peaches go to Walmart right now.”

Durbin said his farm should continue to produce peaches at least until mid-September. He said competition from other fruits to share shelf space has served as a formidable obstacle this year, too. But, so far, things are still going well for them.

“It’s been a good year,” he said. “We need some rain and relief from this heat.”

He, too, said he’s experienced some surplus, which forces the farm to leave many peaches in the field. But he said they are picking a majority of the crops, which they expected to be large anyway.

As the peak season ends in September, as Durbin anticipates, another year starts immediately.

“We start cleaning out the orchards, getting dead trees out and getting irrigation pipes out of there,” he said. “This business goes on 13 months out of the year. We’re going from 12 to 15 hours per day as much as we can. But we don’t get as much work done as hot as it is. You have to pace yourself.”

Soon, like most other peach farmers, Sunshine Farms will prune for the winter, plant new trees and repair and refurbish equipment, Durbin said.

“It stays pretty busy out there.”