Growers and marketers of Georgia and South Carolina peaches look forward to strong demand for high-quality product.

A cold winter, followed by abundant early rains, has Georgia growers smiling this spring, said Duke Lane III, vice president of sales at Lane Packing, Fort Valley, Ga.

“We still have another month to go, but everything’s looking good,” he said. “We’re in better shape than we’ve been in the previous two years.”

Lane Packing increased its acreage from about 2,300 to about 2,500 acres this season, Lane said. Production should start about May 10, right on schedule, and wind up in mid-August.

Kurt Schweitzer, co-owner of Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., Greencastle, Pa., forecast an “excellent” early-season crop and “normal” mid- to late-season crops. Some mid- to late-season varieties could be affected by pollination problems, he said.

Keystone’s Georgia growers would likely begin shipping May 15-18, Schweitzer predicted.

While all systems should be go for Georgia, a hail storm on April 10 could put a dent in the South Carolina crop, said Phil Neary, director of operations and grower relations for Glassboro, N.J.-based Sunny Valley International, which markets 450,000 to 500,000 half-bushel equivalents of Southeast peaches.

“We don’t think the damage is extensive, but we’re kind of waiting it out,” Neary said April 14. “Georgia is sitting a potentially full crop, though.”

After a couple of tough years, California growers reportedly have scaled back their peach plantings, with acreage down possibly 10-12% this season, Neary said. That could bode well for strong Southeast peach markets.

“The demand should be there,” he said.

The popularity of the locally-grown movement should benefit Southeast growers this season, Lane said.

“A lot of retailers in the South seem to want to use Georgia peaches,” he said. “We’re encouraged by that.”

Schweitzer also reported strong demand for locally and regionally grown peaches — not just in the Southeast, but throughout the East and Midwest.

“Demand in the last two or three years has really gone up,” he said. “It looks very favorable for us, and early demand has been quite good.”

On April 14, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16-18 for two-layer tray packs of white-flesh peaches 40s sold on the Los Angeles terminal market, down from $18-20 last year at the same time.

While early-season varieties could be affected by the hail, mid- and late-season varieties likely were not, Neary said. In fact, the storm could actually help growers with thinning those varieties, he said.

Hail aside, Mother Nature has been kind to Southeast peach growers this season, Neary said. Thanks to abundant winter rains, the region is finally, after several years, out of the reach of drought.

And low temperatures this winter yielded the most chill hours in the Southeast in four or five years, he said.

The South Carolina deal should start May 15-20, with volume shipments expected the first week of June, Neary said.