Posts Tagged ‘Florida peaches’

New Business Development Opportunity for Peach Industry Experts

The Central Florida Media Group attends many trade shows throughout the year.  Several months ago, we attended a very successful citrus trade show. The exhibit hall was sold out.  A vast majority of the vendors were selling plant nutrition solutions.  As I walked around the exhibit hall floor, I couldn’t help but notice many of the vendors had spent a significant amount of time and resources developing sales materials and booth exhibits, but traffic to their booths was almost non-existent. Read More…


Bringing Blueberry Lovers into the Peach Fold

blueberries-peachesKeel and Curley Winery Serves Up Peach-Themed Products and Agritourism Event

THE KEEL AND CURLEY WINERY started in 2003, when blueberry farmer Joe Keel had an idea for what to do with his end-of-season berries. In the Plant City farmhouse kitchen, he prepared his first batch of blueberry wine. Some experimentation and refinement resulted in three distinct blueberry wines. Now, more than 20,000 cases of wine are produced each year at the Keel and Curley Winery — with peach wine and other beverages added to the mix.

Blueberries, blackberries, and peaches are the bread and butter of agriculture operation turned tourist attraction. The onsite winery, cidery, and brewery keep the Keels plenty busy brewing their flavorful products. They feature them seven days a week for customers through their tasting room and Railcar 91 food truck, as well as with several themed festivals, each held annually. They have hosted a blueberry festival for almost a decade, Biertoberfest since 2012, and the Third Annual Peach Festival will be taking place in May 2017.

Alicia Keel says that it only made sense that they would add a peach festival when they began growing peaches. “We’ve always had a tradition of holding festivals for our harvests, so as soon as we had our peaches available we added a peach festival,” she says. There will be u-picks available, and customers are urged to come early as that tends to be a very popular sale. Despite the warmer winter weather trends, the peach harvest is expected to go well. Whatever blueberries and blackberries are leftover from their respective harvests also will be available.

The diversification into these related ventures makes the Keel and Curley Winery an agritourism destination with many attractions. The tasting room makes it easy for guests to try the array of beverages offered by Keel and Curley, including several peach-flavored beverages:

WINES – The blueberry wines that started the company come in three varieties: dry, semi-dry, and sweet. In addition to these classics are seven fusion wines that combine fruit juice, including a peach chardonnay.

CIDERS – Keel and Curley offers eight different ciders. The hard apple cider is brewed at the Two Henrys Brewing and blended with fresh fruit grown on-site or locally. Strawberry, mango, and peach are just a few examples. These ciders are made with fresh juices, not from concentrate, which distinguishes them from competitors.

BEERS – Two Henrys Brewing is the cider and beer branch of the Keel and Curley tree. Five craft beers and a rotating selection of seasonal craft beers means there is always something new to try in the tasting room, including a peach beer.

Having fields full of berries, grapes, and peaches gives Keel and Curley plenty to work with, and they make the most of it. They have even expanded into serving food this year with their Railcar 91 food truck. This provides even more opportunity for cross-use of products, with the ability to feature custom pairings seasonally on the menu.

Are there plans to expand into any more ventures soon? “No!” says Mrs. Keel. “Between having the winery, the cidery, the brewery, and then our own food and tasting room that’s open seven days a week, I think we’ve got a full plate.” And with growing consumer interest and demand of Florida peaches, a full plate of fresh offerings is what a hungry market calls for.




Seeing the Orchard for the Trees: Florida Peach Growers Battling the Heat


PEACH GROWERS IN THE SUNSHINE STATE face a major hurdle: getting enough cold weather to produce a viable crop. But several commercially available peach varieties, bred for Florida, are giving the industry a fighting chance.

Just ask Ralph Chamberlain. He manages 40 acres of peach trees in Charlotte County, about 30 miles east of Punta Gorda. “I’m the southernmost peach orchard in Florida,” he says. “I haven’t given up on them as yet.”

Chamberlain has been growing peaches for nearly 12 years using varieties such as UFBest, UFSun, and Tropic Beauty. But being so far south, he’s learned to coax his trees to produce with even fewer chill hours. He uses a technique called pre-conditioning, which he learned through the Australians. “Right before we defoliate our trees in the winter, I load them up with a high rate of potassium,” Chamberlain says. “We do that every 10 days through November, then we defoliate on the first week of December.” Pre-conditioning enables the trees to manage with 15 to 20 percent fewer chill hours. “A lot of years that could make it or break it,” he says.

Of five commercially viable peach varieties bred for Florida, UFBest requires the fewest chill hours, 100, reports Dr. Jose Chaparro, associate professor in fruit tree breeding and genetics at the University of Florida in Gainsville. UFOne and UFSun require 150, UFGem requires 175, and Tropic Beauty requires 200 hours, significantly less than northern varieties, which may require 450 or more chill hours. Tropic Beauty was developed in conjunction with Texas A&M University.

Dr. Chaparro says they are working to develop a peach that grows with zero to 75 chill hours at the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce. “We don’t know what the future holds,” he adds. “We need to select for extremely low chilling.”

Last winter, Chamberlain’s trees only had 35 of the required 100 hours. “Last year was our worst harvest,” he says. “We had a very poor crop.”

He removed 25 acres of his oldest trees and is reconsidering plans for the future. “At this moment we’re kind of watching, waiting,” he says. “I think the market is there. We do have an incredible peach.  We just have not had very good weather.”

The industry had been gaining momentum until a warm winter this past year resulted in a 65 percent decline in volume, says Steven Callaham, managing partner of Dundee Stone Fruit Growers Association, a subsidiary of Dundee Citrus Growers Association. “Consumers were becoming more familiar with the peaches coming out of Florida,” he observes. “The customers were anxious to get the product and, of course, we didn’t have it. Everybody understands weather can be a problem.”

The association does marketing, harvesting, packaging, and shipping, primarily for growers in Polk County. The peaches are shipped up to the eastern states and as far north as Canada in the spring, when Florida’s peaches are the only fresh ones available.

In recent years, citrus growers in Central Florida began looking for alternative crops as they battled Huanglongbing or HLB, a disease which misshapes fruit and kills the trees. Some growers were putting in peach trees as that alternative. A warm winter has left Chamberlain, and possibly others, questioning if the peach is their answer. “There doesn’t seem to be as much buzz out there,” observes Chris Oswalt, a citrus extension agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Polk and Hillsborough counties. “There have been significant obstacles to being able to move […] a lot of volume out there. They’re somewhat struggling for an identity.”

Phillip Rucks, founder of Phillip Rucks Citrus Nursery in Frostproof, which provides about 90 percent of the peach trees in Florida, calls it an “identity crisis.” He says the industry needs to educate consumers and retail markets about the Florida peach. “Grocery store retail chains are not really aware that Florida has peaches,” he explains.

Thirty to 40 growers account for the bulk of the state’s acreage, which was at about 3,000 “the last I heard,” Rucks says. Rucks sold about 20,000 peach trees in 2016, down from about 75,000 in 2015, and 150,000 in 2014. “It’s critical having the chill hours,” he points out. “We have got to have a good year this year.” The cold weather puts the trees in a dormant state until warmer temperatures awaken blooms and leaf flush.

A marketing order to generate industry revenues, that could have been used to grow the industry, failed to pass in January. It did not receive 65 percent of the vote, which was required for approval.

The state will be working to promote the peaches, despite obstacles like volume and consistency. “When you have a small crop like the Florida peach right now, it does make for some challenges,” says Chris Denmark, a development representative with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Marketing and Development.

Florida’s peaches are not the same as other peaches. They are a little bit smaller and, some say, tastier. “They’re a different variety of peaches […] They don’t have the long shelf life that the Georgia and the Chilean peaches have, but the quality and the experience you have is not the same,” he explains.

“To me they are a much, much better product. They taste like a peach should taste,” he states. “If we can get it into the consumer’s hands and onto their lips, we can definitely make an impact.”


photos by LEAH BEANE