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Retailers can bank on bumper S.C. peach crop: Eubanks

COLUMBIA, SC — Supermarket produce departments can bank on an excellent volume of quality South Carolina peaches this summer, despite a cold snap that damaged early-season peaches in the state, said Martin Eubanks, South Carolina assistant commissioner of agriculture.

“We lost the first six weeks of the growing season due to a late-spring freeze, but we’ll have high volume and high-quality peaches in the peak production months of July and August in South Carolina,” Eubanks said in a July 7 interview here.Martin-Eubanks-1Martin Eubanks He is a 28-year veteran of the department and an old hand at riding the weather roller-coaster for produce crops. “We had several bad spells of weather; another degree or two colder, our entire crop could have been lost,” he added.

Handling is critical for peaches to reach the customer in prime condition. “They are hand-picked in a ‘hard-ripe’ condition so they won’t be bruised in shipping,” he said. “Then they are chilled for a day, which puts them to sleep so that they don’t ripen further until placed on the shelf.” The slumbering peaches are shipped at just above freezing temperature, so they arrive at supermarkets in prime condition.

“Consumers can let them ripen at home at room temperature, and then enjoy dessert-quality, free-stone peaches,” Eubanks stated. Storing them in the refrigerator is a no-no, he added.

South Carolina, despite being a small state (it ranks 41 in size among the 50 states), ranks high in produce. It is the nation’s second-largest grower of peaches, behind California and ahead of The Peach State, Georgia. The state places in the top 10 for leafy greens, cantaloupe, peanuts, watermelons, tomatoes, mixed vegetables and sweet potatoes, Eubanks noted, and its Southeast location allows overnight shipments to reach most of the U.S. population.