Posts Tagged ‘Southeast’

Growers Get Peaches In Front of Pupils

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Farm to School Program Continues to Connect Orchardists with Florida Schools

IF YOU’RE IN ANY FIELD of agriculture in the Southeast, then you’ve probably heard of citrus greening and the way the disease is devastating the Florida citrus industry. If you’re in elementary school in Florida, however, then the fresh produce in your school-provided lunch is looking more sweet than ever. School children in 24 districts in The Sunshine State have been loving the peaches that have emerged over the years as a result of crop diversification, and it’s all thanks to the Florida Farm to School Program. Read More…

 

Expanding Organic Research with Recent Funding

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Clemson Will Partner with Other Southeastern Universities on Peach-Bagging Study

THANKS TO A RELATIVELY NEW PROCEDURE, more organic peaches may be entering the market to satisfy consumer demand. The process, which is still under research, involves bagging the individual fruit while it’s on the peach tree.

Clemson University pomologist Juan Carlos Melgar and pathologist Guido Schnabel are tying paper bags on peaches as they grow on trees, an unconventional method of protecting them from insects and disease while reducing reliance on pesticides. Testing for the method began two years ago and research will expand to more orchards in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida with a $999,770 four-year grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). They will analyze optimal bagging times, harvesting strategies, and the impact of variable weather conditions while working with scientists at the Universities of Florida and Georgia. Together, they will evaluate production using bags, educating growers throughout the Southeast about growing peaches organically with this method, and analyzing the economics of bagged peaches.

“There is only one organic peach producer in South Carolina,” Melgar states. “Organic peach production in the Southeastern U.S. is very difficult due to the high pest and disease pressure, plus the lack of efficacious organic pesticides. And while there is a great demand among consumers for organic peaches, its production is concentrated in western states, such as California and Washington. This project will provide organic peach growers and growers in transition to organics in the Southeastern U.S. with an innovative strategy to increase peach orchard productivity and economic returns, to produce high-quality, low-residue peaches; and to reduce reliance on insecticide/fungicide applications.”

Melgar explains that they have tested bags in commercial orchards in South Carolina under two settings — conventional production and organic production. In their trials, they found that the use of bags increased pack out (marketable yield) in the organic orchard since they reduce the presence of fruit pests and the incidence of fruit diseases. There is no increase in yield in the conventional orchard because the spray programs used for peach production in the Southwest already do a great job at controlling pests and diseases.

But how cost effective can it be to wrap each piece of fruit on a tree in a bag? It takes one hour for a person to bag all the fruit in a mature peach tree, approximately 400 pieces of fruit, Melgar reports.

“It mostly depends on the availability of workers. Bagging cost (based on an average wage of $10-$12 per hour and a few dollars for bags per tree) is between $15 and $17 per tree,” he says. “For a conventional orchard, if a mature tree produces 200 to 250 pounds, a grower would only need to receive 10 cents per pound extra to cover the costs.”

Surveys of potential consumers say they would be willing to pay an average of 40 cents extra per pound, with a group of consumers normally above 50 years old and with high income saying they would be willing to pay up to $1 extra per pound of bagged peaches, notes Melgar, who thinks the opportunity for conventional growers would be there if these peaches are sold to this niche market with people looking for a premium peach.

“On the other hand, organic growers may benefit of both an increase in production and an increase in price,” Melgar points out.  “Thus, we think this strategy can benefit organic producers more than conventional producers.”

Harvesting the bagged peaches doesn’t seem to be a problem either. Growers know when their varieties should be harvested.  At the predicted harvest time, it is recommended to rip the bags open and harvest the first pick (those that are ready), leaving the other fruit bagged on the tree, bags open at the bottom, doing the second and third picking when they are ready.

Initial tests on bagged peaches show sugar and acidic content, and the ratio between the two, to be the same in both bagged peaches and peaches applied with pesticides, so flavor is not affected, according to Melgar.  Fruit size and weight are the same.  For some varieties, only the color is different with the bagged peaches not having the blush red as conventionally grown peaches due to not getting as much sunlight.

South Carolina growers harvest more than $64 million in peaches a year, according to figures from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.  That puts South Carolina second only to California in peach production, and the Southeast as a whole produces nearly one third of the peach crop grown in the United States.

What is the program’s outlook?  “We see there is a great opportunity for the organic growers for two reasons — demand for organic peaches is growing in the U.S. while production in the Southeastern U.S. is almost nonexistent, and, second, they are the ones that can benefit the most from the price and the increase pack out,” Melgar states.

Going forward, program plans include focusing on improving strategy, spray programs, comparing bagging at small versus large scale, and studying the long-term impact of bags on decreasing pests and disease populations in the field when a big acreage is bagged.

CREDIT

article by BRENDA EGGERT BRADER