Peach crop low, but should last the summer

Published 2:49 pm Thursday, June 22, 2017

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

A smaller peach crop this year has decreased the peaches available to send throughout the state and region.

However, the crop was not totally lost, and there are still Chilton County peaches to enjoy.

Williams estimates the harvest from his orchard in Thorsby will be a third of what it normally is. He said many orchards south of Highway 22 would be closer to 20 percent.

“Our peaches usually wind up as far away as Dallas, all along the coast, the Mississippi Coast, Alabama Coast, Florida Coast,” peach grower Henry Williams said. “A lot of peaches wind up in Tennessee, all in Mississippi, and then from Mississippi they go throughout Arkansas.”

The peaches are also shipped to various locations along the Interstate in Alabama on the way to the beach, Williams said.

Peaches, Williams said, is what draws people to fruit markets across Alabama. He said if there are not any peaches, people are not going to stop.

“Peaches is the key ingredient, even on the Gulf Coast,” Williams said. “When you don’t have a volume of peaches and the price is high and the quality is not what it normally is it affects a lot.”

There are some large ones this year, but many are smaller than normal, meaning the cost to harvest a box worth is increased.

While peaches are available, the season for buying will likely be shorter this year.

“Our season lasts from the 10th of May to Labor Day, normally,” Williams said.

Mid- June to mid-July is usually the busiest time of the peach harvest in Chilton County. Williams said local stands will have peaches “well into August.”

An extremely mild winter causing a lack of the needed chill hours for the peaches to develop had the most impact on this year’s crop.

“The chill hours we received this year were among the lowest on record. At least 800 to 850 chill hours are preferred to satisfy the chill hour requirement of most of the peach varieties,” Dr. Edgar Vinson, an Alabama Extension fruit specialist, said in a press release.  “The chill hour requirement of many peach varieties was not met. This caused delayed, sporadic blooming or no blooming at all which was frequently the case.”

On some trees, the usual number of leaves did not develop, which could potentially damage the tree.

A late freeze also impacted some varieties requiring fewer chill hours.

While a drought last summer also brought negative impact to the peach crop, an influx of rain in recent weeks means fewer people are stopping at Interstate fruit stands selling the peaches. “This year that’s not a problem. There are any number of people to buy these,” Williams said of peaches that are not being sent to other areas because of low demand this week.

Long-term impact of this year’s losses will last for years.

“There is going to be a lot of tree loss this year,” Williams said. “It is going to impact production for several years.”

It takes at least three years for a new tree to produce peaches. Williams said full production takes five or six years.

Peach producers that Chilton County sellers would normally buy from if their crop failed have also struggled.