The Sweet Bounty of Florida: A Peek Into the Florida Peach Industry

Just as Florida is synonymous with oranges, our neighbors to the north in Georgia are linked with peaches. And with our struggles involving citrus greening, some growers may be considering planting some peach trees in former grove land. But is this the strongest option?

To thrive and produce Peaches require “chill hours,” time when the ambient temperature is less than 45 degrees for an extended period. In Florida, these cold hours can be unpredictable and few and far between, especially as you move farther south. 

It was this cold tolerance, and in fact expectation, of colder temperatures that led Susan Edison to plant peaches in former grove Land. “We had three extreme freezes in three consecutive seasons around 2009 to 2010 that killed a whole section of our orange trees,” Edison says. “Since that part of the grove seemed to get colder than the rest, we planted peaches.” This was the founding of Edison’s peach farm, Deer Park Peaches.

However, a late-season freeze destroyed what would have been Deer Park Peaches’ first harvest. “You want the chill hours in the winter,” Edison continues, “before the flowers and fruit comes in.” 

According to Dr. Ali Sarkhosh, associate professor of the horticultural sciences department at University of Florida, the best performing area is a swath of land, south of Gainesville but north of Orlando. “Florida will not be competitive with top producers, say California, Georgia, South Carolina,” she says, “but it can still be a viable crop – in the right area.”

Even in the correct growing climate, peaches can be Labor intensive. Trees must be pruned, and the young fruit thinned, to allow the remaining fruit more resources to grow. Sarkhosh says this tree work starts about $1,500 per acre.

Many peach growers, including Deer Park Peaches, opt for u-pick operations over commercial harvesting and distribution. Sarkhosh explains why many growers go this route. “U-pick is a popular option; it saves labor costs for the grower, and the fruit straight from the tree is especially delicious.”

This lines up with Edison’s experience at Deer Park Peaches. “We worked with a distributor on our first crop in 2014, but our fruit didn’t ship well. We ramped up our u-pick starting in 2015.” This strategy has worked for Deer Park Peaches, which went from 12 daily visitors in those early seasons to hundreds last year. 

And this season is shaping up to be a good one for Deer Park. “We’ve had a lot of chill hours, plenty of rain. We should have a good crop this year.”

While peaches may not be a good direct replacement for oranges, for growers willing to put in the extra effort, they can see good returns. 

Deer Park Peaches’ u-pick operations open in mid-April.

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