By Katie Jones
Edited by Kevin Walker
Posted April 22, 2010
Summer in South Carolina means one thing: an abundance of peaches. South Carolina has over 17,000 acres of peach farms that annually can bring between $35 million and $50 million to the state.
South Carolina is second only to California in peach production, followed by Georgia. Agriculture is South Carolina's second largest industry, after tourism.
This past winter was particularly good for a region of South Carolina known as The Ridge ¾ comprised of Aiken, Edgefield, Lexington and Saluda counties ¾ where most of the state's peaches are grown.
"This winter has been one of the best winters in the last 20 years," Chalmers Carr, president of Titan Farms, said. "Once we got cold in December, we stayed cold, with very consistent chilling."
Chill hours are considered anything under 45 degrees and peaches require at least 1,000 to 1,100 hours at that temperature.
"That gave us a good start for this coming year," Carr said, adding that "a great bloom season" followed.
The good weather has given Carr reason for hope.
"We're extremely optimistic for this coming year," Carr said. "We had a great winter, followed that up by a better spring."
Different varieties of peaches are harvested at different points throughout the season. True peach season, Carr said, runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
In 2007, Titan Farms, located in Ridge Spring, lost over 90 percent of their crop during a freeze in April, but Carr isn't worried about that this year.
Titan Farms also grows bell peppers and broccoli. Their farms span over 3,000 acres, grow 56 varieties of peaches and supply peaches to BI-LO, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and Publix Super Markets, among other stores. In a good year, the farm will yield 1 million bushels of peaches, Carr said, and $15 million in revenue.
The Peach Tree Orchards owner Ben Smith, who was born on a peach farm, is also optimistic about the upcoming peach season, but wary of the weather.
"As of now, it looks fantastic," Smith said. "But it only takes one night, a freeze, to wipe us out."
The Peach Tree Orchards, located in York, grows 24 varieties of peaches.
Larry Yonce is a spokesperson for J. W. Yonce & Sons, Inc. Big Smile Peaches in Edgefield, which is in its fourth generation of growing 40 varieties of peaches.
"We did have an exceptionally favorable winter for producing peaches, which means that we had adequate dormancy hours for the trees to adequately fruit and leaf properly," Yonce said.
Even with a good winter for peaches, spring can sometimes wreak havoc on the crops.
"We're hoping – not expecting – for a nice crop of fruit," Yonce said. "Spring time weather can be disastrous for us."
While Carr, Smith and Yonce are all optimistic about the upcoming season, they all share the same concern: hail.
"Then we have to worry about those little round white balls," Smith said. "It's par for the course."
Carr had a similar sentiment.
"Hail has been our nemesis," Carr said.
South Carolina Agriculture Department marketing director Martin Eubanks said the peach business is still as alive in South Carolina as it was in the past.
There are fewer growers, but still significant acreage, he said. There are eight commercial packaging facilities and over 100 growers across the state, including roadside stands and you-pick organizations.
Eubanks said the S.C. economy still depends on peaches, especially in rural areas.
"It's definitely a Southern thing for me," Carr said.