September 2, 2014

Agriculture

Peachy Keen

Art Levy | 6/1/2010

Wes Borders
When his orange groves became less profitable,
Wes Borders switched to peaches.
Growing up in a family of citrus growers and cattle ranchers, Wes Borders never worried about making a living. “A man could have 40 acres of oranges and support his family, put his kids through college, and every two or three years he could buy a new pickup truck,” he says. In addition to other crops, including strawberries, his family’s farm near Lakeland grew juice oranges, but juice oranges aren’t as lucrative as they used to be because of cheaper imports. “We couldn’t make a living with juice oranges any longer,” he says. “We started looking for an alternative crop.”

Borders settled on peaches and became among the first farmers in the state to grow several new varieties developed for the state’s climate by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Compared to Georgia peaches, Florida varieties require fewer cold nights to produce fruit. They also ripen earlier — in April and May — giving Florida farmers two months to dominate store shelves before Georgia and California peaches hit the market.

More citrus farmers are joining Borders in giving peaches a try, says Jose Chaparro, an IFAS horticultural researcher. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that Florida farmers tended 234 acres of peaches, mostly along the northern edge of the state. Dan Sleep, a senior analyst and supervisor for the Florida Department of Agriculture, estimates the acreage is probably double that now, with most of the growth in central or southern counties such as Polk, Hillsborough, DeSoto and Charlotte. Nearly all of the fruit is sold within the state at Publix or Sweetbay supermarkets.

Nicole Adams says her family planted peach trees a few years ago to replace a swath of orange trees removed because of citrus canker. The family now has 50 acres of peaches in Punta Gorda and another 21 in Arcadia. Adams says it’s harder to farm peaches — they’re picked ripe and have to be handled carefully —?but the Florida varieties show great potential. “When you take a bite of this peach, you’re sold,” she says. “It’s like biting into a piece of candy.”

Jose Chaparro
Jose Chaparro is a researcher at IFAS. [Photo: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS]

Tags: Southwest, Agriculture

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