An historically early end to the Southeast peach deal should mean stronger markets in coming weeks.

With the exception of a few shipments to local retailers, Lane Southern Orchards, Fort Valley, Ga., was done shipping by the week of July 16, said Duke Lane III, vice president of sales.

“Surprisingly enough, we’re at the tail end of our season,” Lane said July 18. “It’s been an interesting year.”

The season began about two weeks early for Lane, and that accelerated schedule continued throughout the summer, he said. In addition, a lack of chill hours last winter cut into late-season volumes.

“Volumes have been moderate to down the past two weeks,” he said.

It’s the earliest end to the Georgia season, by far, in any living grower’s memory, said Will McGehee, salesman with Genuine Georgia Group and Pearson Farm, Fort Valley, Ga.

“We’re sitting around and don’t know what to do with ourselves,” he said. “It’s a weird feeling. Everyone’s going to the beach a little early this year.”

Typically, when the Georgia deal starts early, crops space themselves out as harvest progresses, and it ends on time, McGehee said. This year, it started 10 days early and ended three weeks early.

“It was an early season, then it got compressed,” he said. “Several varieties ripened on top of each other.”

Fortunately, that happened right before the 4th of July, so Pearson had no trouble moving the extra fruit, McGehee said.

Fruit also smaller than normal this summer for Lane Southern and other Southeast shippers, but that didn’t seem to affect movement, Lane said.

“We’ve had great demand all season,” he said. “Peaches ate great all summer. Considering what happened last winter, we had a pretty good season.”

Prices were inching up even before the Southeast wound down, thanks to lower volumes nationwide, Lane said. That trend could accelerate once Georgia and South Carolina are out of the deal for good.

Doug Sankey, marketing manager of Parlier, Calif.-based SunWest Fruit Co Inc., agreed.

“The market’s good and demand is increasing with lighter supplies on the East Coast,” he said. “We’re rolling along pretty well.”

On July 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $16.10 for two-layer tray packs of yellow California peaches 48-50s, up from $12.10 last year at the same time.

SunWest expects high-quality fruit through September.

“The sizing is good and the brix and taste have been very good,” he said.

Industry-wide, California peach volumes are likely off about 15-25% this season because of hail damage, Sankey said.

Nectarine, plum volumes down

California nectarine volumes also are off about 15-25%, and sizing is smaller than last year, though overall quality is good and demand strong, Sankey said.

Markets also are strong for California red and black plums, Sankey said.

“It’s a lighter crop, and markets are stronger than normal,” he said.

Plum volumes were peaking in mid-July, offering retailers perhaps the best chance of the summer to promote, Sankey said.