Georgia Orchardist’s Perspective

Lawson Peaches Focuses on Agritourism and Other Diversification to See the Farm Through Recent Challenges

 

It’s been a difficult season for peach growers, and Irvin Lawson can attest to that.  Lawson Peaches has been growing peaches in Morven, Georgia since 1961, and Lawson says he’s never seen a year like this.

A warm winter followed by a late freeze spelled disaster for Lawson’s crop.  There simply was not enough chill hour accumulation over the winter for the family-owned agriculture operation.  Then when it got down to 24 degrees Fahrenheit in March, the harvest was decimated.

Lawson recollects past hard times: “2013 was, I thought, the worst year.  We didn’t pack any peaches, but at least I had peaches I could wholesale there at the Peach Shed.  But this year I don’t even have peaches to offer.  This is the first time I have never had a peach to retail.”  Considering years’ past, he says, “This was the year I was supposed to come out of the hole and it just got deeper.”

Most years, the peach-packing season begins around April 20.  This year, there aren’t even enough peaches to pack.  The Lawsons will be selling peaches by the basket, and only one size basket, probably a half-peck.  It’s hard to say how much the peaches will go for, Lawson says he’s going to need to do some research before he can set a price.  They will still sell their signature peach ice cream, jellies, and jam.

The u-pick at the farm this year is non-existent.  There simply aren’t enough peaches on the trees to appeal to those that come for u-pick.  Two of the Lawsons’ four varieties of u-pick peaches were not able to get enough chill hours to produce.  “U-pick people like to go out to your orchards and see plenty of peaches,” he observes.  “Through the years, I’ve learned how the customers are.  They don’t want to do a lot of walking.”  Basically, when customers have to do too much walking, they feel like there isn’t enough fruit in the field.  “I’m just going to use those few peaches that I get from the u-pick and put them in baskets,” Lawson shares.

Agritourism may be the farm’s future salvation though.  With harvests turning out the way they are in recent years, the Lawsons have become more willing to dip their toes in that pond.  Of course, people are still going to want to see peaches on the trees, but at least consumers will be able to visit the orchards and see the trees.  However, without enough peaches to sell, they’ll be missing out on the packing aspect.

Over the years, Lawson has seen his fair share of challenges in the agricultural industry.  He grew up in peaches.  “Things have changed,” he states.  “The labor is hard to get.  The weather has changed.  As far as South Georgia, at one time we had 14 packing sheds and over 5,000 acres.  Now we’re down to two packing sheds and less than 1,000 acres.  I don’t even know if there’s 500 acres now.”

“It’s just hard to grow a peach nowadays, versus 20 years ago,” Lawson concludes.  His farm is certainly feeling the challenges that weather conditions brought about this season, and while other farms may well find themselves in a similar predicament, Georgia growers— including the Lawsons— are in it for the long haul and will continue to grow crops while focusing on innovations and solutions.  

CREDIT

by TERESA SCHIFFER