For us peach lovers (and peach jam canners) in this part of the country, alas, the 2017 crop is destined to be — well, the pits. At least for some growers. And some varieties.
“We’ve lost about 75 percent of our crop,” Adam Galloway, of Kalawi Farms, told me in a telephone conversation this past Friday. “So it has hurt us financially — and hurt our customers, who always want all of their own favorite varieties. Some varieties aren’t going to be coming in this year.”
Leslie Shoffner, selling peaches in the Moore County Farmers Market near Moore Regional Hospital, had a similar message.
“We were hit pretty hard,” she said Monday.
You can blame this misfortune on the weather — a meteorological double whammy that slapped this region of the country up ’side the head early this year.
First, there was an unseasonably warm spell in February, which tricked untold numbers of trees into starting to bloom prematurely. Then, on the night of March 15, temperatures plummeted as low as 19 degrees, wreaking peach havoc in both North and South Carolina.
Before the season is over, some estimate that South Carolina will have lost 80 to 85 percent of its peach crop, according to predictions made by Matt Cornwell, marketing specialist with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, quoted in a trade publication called The Packer. And parts of North Carolina are not far behind.
Georgia suffered less damage than the Carolinas in the March freeze, with the result that demand for Georgia peaches has already pushed prices 50 percent higher than normal, according to a recent TV news report.
Fortunately, all of the news isn’t bad for places like Kalawi Farms, which operates a popular roadside retail operation amidst its orchards on N.C. 211 about 25 miles northwest of Pinehurst, just this side of Interstate 73 and right on the Moore-Montgomery County line.
“The good news is that it looks like we are going to have a couple of our most popular varieties this year — Georgia Belles and China Pearls,” Galloway told me. “Also, plenty of Windblows. We’re blessed to have gotten the ones we did.”
Nobody answered when I called Bynum Peach Farm, located on I-73. But a recording announced: “We’ll begin taking orders for peaches on July 1. I’ll have someone that can take your name and number at that time. Thank you.”
The owners of Johnson’s Peaches, 3 miles south of Candor on 73, are not anticipating a good year, though they’re still unsure about the extent of the damage.
“We don’t have as many,” Barbara Johnson told me. “We had the cold damage in March, and our crops are very short. Some varieties are normal, and some have very few peaches.”
Although she emphasized that it was “just a guess,” Johnson said that she and her husband, Garrett, expect that this year’s crop might be 65 to 70 percent of normal — which would be putting them in better shape than most.
That would seem to square with a comment by Brad Thompson, an extension agent with N.C. State, who told The Packer: “Barbara and Garrett probably have the most peaches in Montgomery County — maybe the state — both typically and this year. If they have a bad crop, nobody else has any.”
I’ll keep that in mind. At different times over the past decade or so, I have paid August visits to all the above-named locations — and then some — in search of a bushel or so of the ideally juicy North Carolina peaches needed for another batch of Bouser’s Peach Jam What Am. It’s good to know that there’s still some good ones out there, even if they may be fewer and farther between.
And there’s always next year.