Livin’ the Peach Life

IMG_0457_titlePicforGrowerColumnWhat a year the Florida peach business had this last 2014 harvest. Many other packing houses came online this past year to help pack, sell, and ship the delicious Florida peach throughout the country. Some who were already packing and selling strawberries, blueberries, and citrus found the Florida peach a perfect fit for their operations to maximize their cooling and packing lines. Customers as far as Canada were able to experience the sweet taste of a tree-ripened Florida peach. Even though Florida has a short window in the peach market, Florida peaches are getting their name known to the average household in Florida as well as the entire country. Look out California; sweetness is within reach with the Florida peach. Surely, our stone fruit is benefiting from the same soil that gives Florida citrus its famous sweet flavor over all other citrus.

Record numbers were recorded by the USDA, so much so that Ray Rentzel, managing director of the National Peach Council, declared that the “Florida peach” has caught the industry’s eye. With approximately 2,000-plus acres planted statewide, with each orchard at different stages of growth, the 2015 harvest season is looking even better.

Some good news for Florida growers is that a Peach Thinning Guide is being developed for each cultivar. Primarily, Florida peaches were all developed by the University of Florida IFAS Horticulture and Sciences Division. All of these cultivars begin with UF, meaning that they are patented by the University of Florida. Varieties that have been planted by many growers are UFSun, UFBest, UFOne, UFGem, UFBeauty, Tropic Beauty, and UFSharp. More good news for us: these scientists are monitoring everything we as growers are doing and are keeping records in developing this secondary major crop in Florida akin to the Florida blueberry. Just look at what Florida has done with the blueberry in the last 15 years. Every market carries the Florida blueberry now.

A Peach Thinning article by Gregory L. Reighard with the Department of Horticulture at Clemson University was presented at the recent Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah, Georgia. I had the pleasure of attending and was quite impressed with the entire Peach Conference and speakers. Basically, some of the practices that South Carolina and Georgia are doing we can incorporate in our Florida peach program as far as thinning is concerned. Dr. Reighard states that market price is typically linked to fruit size. The timely thinning of small-to-medium fruit cultivars not only significantly increases fruit size, the percentage of marketable fruit, and packed boxes per orchard, it also escalates the per unit value by increasing overall fruit size (for examples, a 2.25-inch peach versus a 2.5-inch peach).

Production numbers are relative and may increase by 10 to 30 percent, depending on cultural practices. Whatever production system used by the growers, fruit thinning at the appropriate time almost always increases crop value above the expenses incurred for thinning.

So the conversation everywhere is about flowers, buds, and fruit size. Some growers are using a tool developed in South Carolina of plastic switches on a long tube attached to a drill called “The Cinch.” The multi-use blossom thinner, which runs through the tree when flowers are at the right stage, may be taking the place of manual thinning. Some growers are forging ahead of the rest of us and trying this technique this years, so we can all benefit from each other’s experiences.

The University of Florida IFAS Extension agents have stepped forward to help our growers form a Peach Grower’s Association. All of the growers are on track with their Best Management Practices, and are working hard to place this crop for the beautiful state of Florida in the national eye.

CREDIT

by MARGIE ADAMS, owner and grower, Pampered Peach