Enquirer Herald

York County fruit harvest is just peachy

If you like peaches, your taste buds are in luck.

With winter having played nice with crops this year, the peach supply in the early weeks of spring is expected to be both plentiful and of high quality, growers and experts say. That means peach lovers should have no trouble finding a good piece of juicy fruit as the bloom boom continues.

"It's going to be a buyer's market," said Andy Rollins, a fruit and vegetable agent with the Clemson Extension Service.

York County historically ranks in the top 10 in South Carolina in peach production, and local farms already have dozens of varieties in bloom.

"It looks like every bloom has taken," said Ron Edwards, general manager of Springs Farm in Fort Mill, which grows 45 varieties of peaches on around 75 acres. "It looks like it's going to be great."

At The Peach Tree, a 125-acre orchard in western York County, owner Ben Smith is equally optimistic.

"Right now, they look fantastic," Smith said.

But Smith and other growers caution that, despite a good start, a good crop can be wiped away overnight with a late-spring frost or hail storm. Smith has had crops killed as late as April 24.

"I've seen them bloom out on Feb. 15 and make a full crop, and I've seen them bloom April 15 and get killed," Smith said. "It's just left to the man up above whether we're going to have good peaches or not."

Another factor in the early abundance of fruit are unseasonably warm temperatures in recent weeks that have caused some varieties to bloom early. But what's good news for buyers isn't necessarily welcomed by growers, as some feel the abundance of peaches could lead to an oversaturated market - and lower revenues.

South Carolina is the nation's second-largest peach producer, behind California.

Rollins, the Clemson Extension agent, said that from a business standpoint, there's reason for farmers to be concerned about having too much supply.

Essentially, each year's peach crop is a gamble for farmers, he said.

"Every year they're spending huge amounts of money on hopes that they'll be able to sell their crops," Rollins said.

For now, local farmers say the situation is something to think about, not worry about.

Arthur Black, owner of Black's Peaches & Cotton Belt Bakery in York, said he still believes crops will sell well locally, despite increased competition.

"It'll probably work itself out," said Black, in the peach business for 40 years.

"It'll just be something we'll have to work through."

Edwards, the Fort Mill peach farmer, said he's also a bit concerned but that conditions have conspired before to produce an abundance of crop

"I'd rather have too many than not any," he said.