South Carolina peach crop is bountiful and juicy as harvest moves into high gear

COLUMBIA, SC — Supermarket produce departments can bank on an excellent volume of quality South Carolina peaches this summer, affirmed Martin Eubanks, South Carolina Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture, in a mid-July interview here. He is a 28-year veteran of the department and an old hand at riding the weather roller-coaster for produce crops.

He predicts a bountiful and juicy harvest this year, ending in early September. “We could easily top four million 25-pound boxes this season,” he told The Produce News (in 2014, 3.5 million boxes were shipped).peachThis peach tree bears some of the bountiful and juicy fruit for the South Carolina peach harvest, which is in full swing in late July. South Carolina now has 20,000 acres of peach orchards, he estimates. “The outlook is good. We had a cold winter, received good rainfall and peach orchards received all the chill hours they need.”

Growers are bustling to get the crop in. At McLeod Farms in McBee, SC, for example, Kemp McLeod, a fourth-generation owner who grows 22 varieties of peaches on 650 acres, said workers have expanded from about 40 year-round to 200 for the harvest season, and 15-hour workdays are not uncommon. McLeod uses drip irrigation; high-speed wind machines that pull warmer air down into the orchards to save peach trees from frost damage; and in spring and early summer, a hail cannon which uses sonic waves to crush hail into harmless rain.

Chalmers R. Carr III, president of Titan Farms in Ridge Spring, SC, said the peach crop there was “the biggest and best in years.” He was interviewed July 16, when Titan had about half its crop harvested. “We’ve got a million boxes shipped, and a million boxes to go,” when harvest is finished around Sept. 12, he noted. Production is steady, he added, with about 100 tractor-trailers filled each week.

 The hot and dry weather raised the peaches’ sugar levels high, he said, making them extra sweet. Prices have drifted lower, he said, but demand remains strong and he expects prices to stabilize at normal levels. “Consumer reaction has been phenomenal to this year’s harvest, our retail partners tell us,” he observed.

Eubanks noted that the state ranks second in the nation in peach production with a peach industry valued at $130 million, right behind sprawling California and well ahead of Georgia, “The Peach State.” South Carolina’s location in the Southeast allows overnight shipments to reach much of the U.S. population. Other advantages include 842 miles of interstate highways and 9,500 miles of state primary roads, he said. “Water is abundant,” he commented, “and warm, humid growing conditions on slightly acidic, sandy loam soil provide outstanding quality and flavor in our products.”

Speaking of flavor: South Carolina peaches carry the slogan, “The Tastier Peach,” Eubanks noted, warning that “anyone eating a South Carolina peach with its natural juices will need two napkins.” The loam soil in the Upstate and The Ridge area of the state, where 80 percent of the state’s peaches are grown, gives them a distinctive sweet flavor, Eubanks stated.

Over his nearly three decades at the department, Eubanks said the number of produce Stock Keeping Units has grown from about 60 to more than 500—some SKU’s due to new varieties, others reflecting new processing for existing products, including peaches. In 2009, Yonce & Sons in Johnston, SC, began processing frozen sliced peaches, a first on the East Coast. Among the many customers for its Sweet Carolina Frozen Peaches was R J Rockers Brewing Co. in Spartanburg, SC, which used Yonce frozen peaches to make its “Son of a Peach” beer. In 2015, Titan Farms also began making peach puree.

OHL business is ‘all good’

PHILADELPHIA — “We are doing really well. Here, it’s all good,” said Edward Fitzgerald, senior director of import operations for OHL International. “2014 was a very profitable year.

“We have expanded in our push for the group to handle new commodities like vegetables,” he said.

On the export side, Christopher Ryan, OHL’s business development manager for perishables, said the Philadelphia office is work on developing business to the United Kingdom from the U.S. East Coast. The firm is also developing export loads out of Seattle and Tacoma, WA, with apples for the Far East. “We hope it will keep going, with all the U.S. apples going to China, with that market opening,” he said.

Fitzgerald said the Moroccan oranges and Spanish lemons are increased OHL business, in addition to clementines from those two countries. OHL handles this fruit in both the ports of Philadelphia and New York.

OHL is involved in handling customs matters for fruit from many other countries.

Fitzgerald, who is the treasurer of Ship Philly First, said that volunteer promotional group has “been very effective as a business community for getting more ocean services to the port of Philadelphia.”

The group works with shipping lines such as Maersk and its sister company SeaLand, Hamburg Süd, and MOL, which shares vessels with APL.

Over the last year Ship Philly First has focused on creating a direct connection between Philadelphia and the port of Veracruz, Mexico. “I am excited about” this possibility, he said. “It will provide another trade line for cargo from southern Mexico to the U.S. and also an opportunity for developing U.S. exports from the Delaware Valley to Mexico.”

The maritime connection “is a different mode of transportation. It is price comparable and the timeliness is very competitive to the trucking mode. Some ocean carriers have service from Mexico, through Panama, Cartagena (Colombia) from the west coast of South America and Oceania.” Those connecting services are 15-19 days while a direct link from Veracruz would be five to seven days.

Fitzgerald said there are exports in line for this business and shippers and terminals are ready. “We need a carrier from A to B” as the missing link to finalize the Veracruz route.

Holt’s strong summer season

Breakbulk refrigerated cargo ships bearing South African citrus imports for the 2015 season were first received at the Gloucester Terminal on June 17. The South African fruit is expected to be received through October.

Containerized citrus from Uruguay was received into the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal on June 3 and will end in August.

“Uruguay began with a good start,” said Leo Holt, president of Holt Logistics Corp. In this second season of USDA phytosanitary regulators allowing Uruguayan citrus, Hamburg Sud will be carrying more than 500 containers — or 10,000 pallets — in 2015. Last year there were 250 containers that landed at Packer Avenue. Virtually all the Uruguayan fruit is Navels.

Holt said the volume of the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal is growing as well.

Packer Avenue is receiving “products from all over South America. All of the Peru products are received via container.”

After the primary season is over, a large volume of containerized Chilean fruit is also received through the Packer Terminal.

Seatrade a reefer service leader

With ongoing investments into new ships, Seatrade Group “is invested into the next 30 years,” noted Howard Posner, the general manager of the refrigerated shipping company based in Tampa, FL. “We are heavily invested into the business. That is for sure.” This effort will boost the international trade.

“For us, business continues to grow,” Posner said. “We have new ships on line.” Four will be launched in 2016 and two more are coming in 2017.

These are specialized reefer container vessels, designed for port-to-port refrigerated service. The 606-foot-long ships will have 650 plugs for reefer containers. The shallow-draft ships can call on ports that are not deep water. These highly efficient vessels will carry about 13,000 pallets.

Holt Logistics caters to produce on Delaware River

GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ — Holt Logistics Corp. is deeply involved in maritime services along the Delaware River. Holt’s primary focus is serving international produce exporters. With more than 27 million cubic feet of refrigerated storage and 1.3 million square feet of dry space the firm provides corporate service to marine terminal and logistics center operators.

Tom Holt Sr. pioneered the river’s evolution as a destination for produce. Today his sons — Tom Jr., Leo and Michael — are at the helm. Leading the logistics arm is Leo Holt, president. The Holt family owns the Gloucester Marine Terminal in Gloucester City, NJ. Their container terminal affiliate, Greenwich Terminals LLC, manages the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, which is a major container facility in Philadelphia. A year ago, the family entered into a private public partnership with the South Jersey Port Corp. to construct a new port facility in Paulsboro, NJ.

The Gloucester Marine Terminal moves refrigerated break bulk cargo in its cavernous dockside warehouse. The Gloucester Terminal also handles shipper-specific containerized fruit.

Del Monte Fresh Produce, which brings in fruit year-round, calls the Gloucester Terminal its home for tropical and non-tropical fruit programs, arriving on specialized refrigerated vessels from Central America and South America.

In servicing Del Monte, “We had another good melon season this year. Del Monte’s brisk tempo provides two vessels, 52 times weeks per year,” said Eric Holt, who is in business development for the company.

As to the Paulsboro Marine Terminal, Leo Holt said, “We are working with the SJPC to develop the operation for them.” This is a 190-acre facility with a 3,000-foot, deep-water dock and 21,000 lineal feet of rail track. “It’s a classic brownfields site that was a shuttered and vacant refinery. Thanks to the late Joe Balzano of the SJPC and the leadership of the New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Governor Chris Christie, this is taking shape as a world-class terminal operation.”

There is an initial $175 million to develop Paulsboro, with another $400 million investment later. Pier construction is in full swing and the first phase will be online in February 2016. The Paulsboro port is built for food warehousing. Beyond that, Leo Holt said, “The market will determine if it is refrigerated or dry. At the end, customers are the king and will determine the needs and style of operation.”

At Packer Avenue “organic growth has really created opportunities to modernize the system at the terminal,” he said.

In the last year, the Holts have invested $10 million to install a new security gate and new state-of-the-art weigh-in-motion scales, and cameras with OCR — optical character recognition. “It is very exciting technology that is used in a lot of places in the world,” he said.

Leo Holt credits Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Wolf for “being interested in improvements in infrastructure” in the state. The governor, who was inaugurated in January, also brought “new leadership to many agencies,” which has proven to be positive for business.