Peach inventory down, sweet crop still expected

Published 11:30 am Saturday, August 6, 2022

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Peach season is here, and Virginia growers are reporting another delicious crop is available this summer, despite an unpredictable spring.

A series of freezes hit several Virginia localities in mid- to late-April, causing damage to fruit crops that were in vulnerable growth stages.

Robert Saunders, general manager of Saunders Brothers Inc. in Nelson County, said he had “a lot of damage and lost fruit,” resulting in a smaller peach crop this year.

However, despite losing some peaches early, Saunders noted the rest of the growing season has been relatively straightforward.

“Everything’s been going OK for us so far, knock on wood, but we’re kind of early in the season, and we’re just starting to hit our peak,” he said. “Moisture has been OK for the year, and it’s been feast or famine, but the fruit has been moving very well for us.”

Saunders said he can irrigate his peaches if rainfall isn’t forthcoming, as much of Virginia is mired in moderate drought conditions according to National Agricultural Statistics Service’s most recent crop report.

Avoiding an extended period of drought would help reduce heat stress, said Saunders, who added that his main concern now is seeing damage from hail and strong winds.

While excessive summer heat has plagued Virginia farmers and residents alike throughout summer, it does come with an upside pertaining to peaches.

“The flavor is really, really good this year,” Saunders said about the 59 varieties grown at his operation. “That’s one of the things about the heat when you’re not (getting rain). The peach flavor is really enhanced.”

Patrick County grower Harry Harold also said he had gone a while without rain but, like Saunders, his peaches were tasting “very good and sweet.” Harold said he was growing Contender, Loring and Redskin varieties, as well as others.

Ben Snapp, who operates West Oak Farm Market in Winchester, also said his farm lost early peach varieties to freezes, but later varieties are thriving. The market now is offering John Boy peaches, with more varieties coming through early October.

“The season has been great. It’s been a great growing year,” Snapp said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of rain. The fruit has a very nice size to it and has done really well, and it has a great flavor.”