Peach producers in the Hill Country are reporting good quality and good demand despite an odd winter and remaining COVID-19 restrictions, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Jim Kamas, AgriLife Extension fruit specialist, Fredericksburg, said Hill Country peach producers have been harvesting cling-stone fruit for more than a week. So far, fruit quality looks good amid ideal finishing conditions, but yields may be down because progress was stunted by warmer-than-usual temperatures in January.
Kamas said 2020 was an odd year for peach producers.
Orchards received around 1,000 chill hours, which is more than enough for varieties requiring low- and high-chill hours. But January temperatures were warm enough to retract those chill hours and make conditions similar to a 750 chill-hour season, which is just enough or a little short for many high-chill requirement varieties.
“Trees were slow to produce, and it probably impacted some growers, but those who used growth regulators should be in great shape,” he said.
Kamas expects yields could be 20% lower than an average year, but growers are still expecting 100 pounds of peaches – 2 bushels – per tree. At $2.50 per pound, he said peach producers with direct-to-public sales should do well.
He expects prices on free-stone peach varieties will be even a bit higher per pound.
A major worry among growers was whether COVID-19-related shelter-at-home orders might disrupt the marketing period, Kamas said.
“That was the biggest question,” he said. “Peaches are relatively easy to grow under normal conditions but selling them is the hard part.”
Most towns have reopened, and orchards and fruit stands are selling direct to the public, Kamas said. Some “pick your own” growers are using online reservations to limit the number of people at any given time.
“Everything seems to be working well,” he said. “Some producers have had to be creative, but the demand for fresh fruit is there.”
Kamas said aside from the strange effect temperatures had on some trees, growing conditions have allowed the Hill Country peach crop to finish strong.
“Quality is good,” he said. “We’ve had timely rains and not so much that we’d see flavor dilution. Cool nights have also helped keep the fruits’ acids up. So, you have very good acid to sugar levels that give peaches that great tart but sweet flavor.”
Kamas said much of the region’s peach orchards have shrunk in size over the years. There are two producers with over 200 acres of trees, but most orchards consist of 30-40 acres.
Direct-to-consumer sales have reduced the number of growers willing to sell their peaches for wholesale prices. Consumers have also grown to prefer peaches allowed to ripen on the tree rather than harvested with time to ripen while in transit.
“Growers know they can get a better return if they deal directly with the public, and consumers know they can typically get a better peach in season when they get them directly from the orchards,” he said.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Warmer, drier weather across the district was beneficial for producers. Hay production was in full swing. Sabine County reported that higher temperatures and lack of rainfall allowed for harvesting bottomland meadows. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Weed control practices were being utilized. Cattle prices fell lower across the board. Livestock were doing fair to good. Grasshopper infestations were reported in Gregg County. Wild pig activity remained a problem for many producers.