Peach growers in Illinois dodged a bullet in March. That’s good news not only for the farmers, but for their fruit-loving customers.
A mild winter that set buds early was followed by a cold snap in March. But the fruit survived and is now in full, abundant harvest.
“We were definitely positioned to have a good year. The peach harvest is going beautifully,” said University of Illinois horticulture educator Elizabeth Wahle. “Size is good, quality is good and flavor is exceptional. We definitely are having a good peach year.”
Some producers in Illinois may benefit from weather problems in the major peach-producing regions of Georgia and South Carolina, though much of the market in Illinois has shifted over the years from wholesale to retail.
The crop is at least 10 days early this season. That is partly due to the mild winter, but also because of improvements in early cultivars, which some growers are planting to capitalize on customer demand for fresh fruit.
Peach producers in Southern Illinois saw the mercury drop to the mid-teens on March 14.
“We had such a mild winter. We were at bud break really early. That’s why everyone was holding their breath when we had that cold snap,” Wahle said.
“We thought for sure that we were going to lose our peach crop. I think they’re still shaking their heads at the good fortune they had.”
If there is any downside to the accelerated harvest, it may be the potential for trouble getting everything picked.
“It’s kind of bunched up,” Wahle said. “Whereas they would normally be picking one or two, they’re picking four or five cultivars. They’re going to be done earlier this year than average.
“We usually shoot for the Fourth of July to have sweet corn and peaches. We had peaches on the market well before the Fourth of July window. Sweet corn just made it.”
Most commercial peach growers also have apples, and they also appear to be doing well.
“Apples are sizing rather nicely,” Wahle said. “We’re running a little bit earlier, at least a week. They’re looking very nice for us as well.”’
Orchardists in Illinois have long claimed peaches grown in the southern part of the state are superior in taste to fruit from Georgia and other Southern states. This may be a good year for consumers to put that claim to the test.
Weather problems in Georgia and South Carolina have increased demand and introduced many to Illinois’ smaller but thriving fruit industry.