SE peach volumes surge, demand strongSoutheast peach volumes surged after a sluggish beginning, and excellent quality is driving strong demand.

After a slow start to the season due to a cold spring, growers ran on all cylinders in time for Fourth of July pull, said Will McGehee, sales manager for the Fort Valley, Ga.-based Genuine Georgia Group and Pearson Farm.

“It’s perked up the last few weeks, and it was really good timing,” McGehee said July 14. “We had great volume right before the Fourth.”

Robert Dickey III, vice president of Musella, Ga.-based Dickey Farms Inc., said movement started to pick up in mid-June.

“We’ve been very busy,” Dickey said July 14. “We’ve had some great fruit, and volumes are back to near normal.”

On July 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $16.65 for one-half bushel cartons 2 3/4 of Georgia peaches, up from $11.65-13.65 last year at the same time.

With the May and June crop checking in at just 50% or 60% of normal, Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., which markets peaches grown by Taylor Orchards in Georgia and Watson & Sons in South Carolina, was happy to see the July surge, said Michael Blume, Keystone’s commodity manager for peaches.

“Once we got into July we got very busy, and demand has been extremely strong,” he said. “The support of retailers and wholesalers has been excellent. It’s going to wind up being a very good year.”

Fruit that began harvesting in time for the holiday was spared the frost damage of earlier varieties, and the rest of the deal should be smooth sailing, McGehee said.

“The last two weeks have been big, and the next two are looking good, too,” he said. “We should be a factor until maybe the second week of August.”

Volumes will start to decline, however, in late August, McGehee said. Blume said Keystone’s supplies already were starting to wind down the week of July 14. The company expected to ship its last Southeast peaches in mid-August.

Dickey Farms expects to have peak volumes through July, Dickey said.

Abundant chill hours over the winter have been one factor in this season’s outstanding quality, McGehee said.

“We haven’t shipped peaches this good in a decade. “All the farms have talked about how good the packouts have been, the color’s been great, but the best thing has been the flavor.”

Thanks to the high quality, sales have been up over last year for many retailers, McGehee said — even with higher prices.

“Repeat orders have been coming a lot faster than normal.”

Dickey Farms’ customers have had no trouble absorbing the sudden influx of fruit after the slow start to the season, Dickey said.

“Retailers have really worked with us on moving a big crop in July,” he said. “Movement has been great.”