There are two basic types of peaches (Prunus persica): clingstone and freestone. With clingstone peaches, the flesh “clings” to the "stone" of the peach, making it difficult to separate, and thus more suitable for processing.
The pit of freestone peaches "freely" separates from the flesh, making it ideal for fresh consumption. (Clemson University – Cooperative Extension, n.d.)
The inside flesh of peaches exists in three different colors: yellow, white and the less common red. In the United States yellow-fleshed peaches are the most common, having a balanced flavor of sweet and tangy. White-fleshed peaches are very common in Asian countries; and recently there has been a growing demand for them throughout the United States. White-fleshed peaches have less acidity, and therefore lack the tangy flavor that yellow peaches exhibit (Clemson University – Cooperative Extension, n.d.)
California clingstone peaches are available from July 10 to mid-September, while California freestone peaches are harvested from April 20 to October 10. The Southern states of Georgia and South Carolina provide peaches from May to August. For all other states the marketing season is from July to September (NASS, 2015).
In 2014, 47 percent of the total peach production was sold through the fresh sector (NASS, 2015). To add value to your fresh peach crop, peaches can be sold on site by offering a U-Pick operation or through farm stands and local farmers’ markets. Selling the uniquely shaped variety known as Donut, Saturn or Saucer can also fetch more value (Visit California, n.d.).
In 2014, 53 percent of the total peach production was processed. Of that 53 percent roughly 75 percent were canned, 21 percent were frozen, and the remainder were dried or used for other processed products (NASS, 2015). Peaches are not just for pies and cobblers anymore. Peaches have been processed into products such as, sorbets, yogurts, peach oil used in beauty products, and beer (University of Kentucky – Cooperative Extension, 2014) (Visit California, n.d.).
As of 2014, peaches are commercially produced in 23 states. The top four states in peach production are California, South Carolina, Georgia and New Jersey.
In 2014, California supplied nearly 49 percent of the United States fresh peach crop and more than 96 percent of processed peaches (NASS, 2015).
United States total peach production in 2014 was 838,027 tons valued at $629.1 million. California led the nation in peach production, with 620,000 tons valued at $356.1 million. South Carolina followed, producing 60,800 tons valued at $63.3 million. Georgia produced 33,000 tons valued at $36.1 million, and New Jersey produced 21,050 tons valued at $27.9 million (NASS, 2015).
The bearing acreage of peach trees has been gradually declining for the past two decades (except for the years 2002 and 2004, which had slight increases from the years before them). By 2014 the United States had 102,640 bearing acres of peach trees. The value of production, however, has been gradually increasing over the past two decades (except for the years 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, and 2013, which all had decreases of 12 percent or less from the years before them) (NASS).
In 2014, fresh peach prices averaged $1,190 per ton, up nearly 24 percent from 2012, and 2013. Processed peach prices averaged $363 per ton, up 12 percent from 2012, and up 6 percent from 2013 (NASS, 2015).
The United States is the third-largest producer of peaches/nectarines in the world. China is the leading peach/nectarine producer (FAOSTAT, 2013).
Exports/Imports/United States Consumption
The United States is a net exporter of peaches. In 2014, the country exported 234 million pounds of peaches valued at $202 million. Of that amount, fresh peach exports accounted for $178 million, almost a 7 percent increase from the previous year. Processed peach exports accounted for $24 million, a decrease of 7 percent from the previous year (ERS, 2015).
The top destination for U.S. peaches in 2014 was Canada, which purchased fresh peaches valued at $79 million and processed peaches valued at $12.7 million. That same year, Mexico purchased fresh peaches valued at $432.8 million and processed peaches valued at $8.3 million (ERS, 2015).
The United States imported 297.5 million pounds of peaches valued at almost $186.6 million in 2014. The majority of the imports were processed peaches, which were valued at $141.1 million, a 14 percent increase from 2013. (ERS, 2015).
China was the main supplier in 2014, providing processed peaches valued at more than $87.8 million. Chile was the other major supplier, providing fresh peaches valued at $45.3 million and dried peaches valued at $823,000 (ERS, 2015).
Annual per person consumption of peaches in the United States peaked at 13.1 pounds in the year 1980. In 2014, annual consumption was 6.4 pounds per person, a 13 percent decrease from the previous year (ERS, 2014).
Planning and preparation before starting any orchard is the surest way to receive success with your harvest (Pennsylvania State University, n.d.).
Peach trees require chilling hours to induce flowering (600 chilling hours for low-chill varieties and 900 for higher chilling varieties). Peach trees can bloom relatively early in the spring, therefore areas that receive frosts after mid-April should not be used to establish a peach orchard. Peach trees also require a decent amount of heat for their fruit to ripen appropriately (Pennsylvania State University, n.d.) (UC-IPM, 2014).
Peach trees are self-pollinating; therefore all trees of the same cultivar can be planted next to each other allowing easier harvesting. One of the most important management practices for peach trees is the thinning of their fruit. This allows for the trees to produce bigger more colorful fruit. The average spacing between each fruit should be about six inches (Pennsylvania State University, n.d.) (UC-IPM, 2014).