After a year of bad weather, peaches are in short supply — and a lot more expensive

Will Bauer Aug 28, 2023
Heard on:
Customers shop for peaches on July 13, at Flamm Orchards in Cobden, Illinois. Brian Munoz

After a year of bad weather, peaches are in short supply — and a lot more expensive

Will Bauer Aug 28, 2023
Heard on:
Customers shop for peaches on July 13, at Flamm Orchards in Cobden, Illinois. Brian Munoz

Peaches, long synonymous with summer, cost more at the grocery store this season — sometimes by 25 to 50%, according to peach producers and trade organizations. That’s because un-peachy weather has led to a shortage of the fruit in places like Georgia, South Carolina and Illinois.

“This is such an untypical year,” said Austin Flamm, the farm manager of Flamm Orchards in deep southern Illinois.

The conveyor belt would usually be cleaning, sorting and storing thousands of peaches this summer. But it isn’t running. Instead, the orchard is processing by hand because it has so few of the fuzzy fruit.

The culprit: A Midwest cold spell in late December knocked out 90-95% of his crop this year.

In the big refrigerator-like warehouse where Flamm stores his peaches, the crop loss is just as obvious. It would normally be full of huge bins packed with peaches, but it sits nearly empty.

“To have a loss as bad as we’ve had this year, it’s very rare,” Flamm said. “This is the worst loss we’ve had in about 16 seasons since 2007.”

Austin Flamm, a man wearing blue jeans, a blue t-shirt and green baseball cap, looks off to the right with his hands in his front jean pockets. He stands in front of shelves full of boxes of peaches.
Austin Flamm, farm manager at Flamm Orchards, on July 13, at the farm’s store in Cobden, Illinois. (Brian Munoz)

Across the U.S., other peach orchards struggled too. While the cold got to the Midwest fruit, it was hot spring weather that hurt the peach crop in the productive southeast states.

In Georgia — the peach state — farmers lost 90% of their crop this year, said Duke Lane III, the  president of the state’s peach council and a farmer. This year, he said, was the worst year since 1955.

“It’s hard to say (we were) due — like that doesn’t feel good — but it’s not the first time it’s happened,” Lane III said. “And it won’t be the last.”

There is a bit of good news for peach fans: California’s season was healthy and robust. While the Southeast — and Georgia especially — are known for peaches, California is actually the top producer by quite a bit.

Kay Rentzel, the executive director of the National Peach Council, said California had good weather for growing peaches.

“California has had a fabulous year,” Rentzel said. “They had a lot of rain early on, which was atypical of their climate. But, certainly, they’ve had a good year.”

Regardless, peach buyers may still notice a lack of local fruit in the parts of the country hit with that untimely weather. Rentzel said if consumers are lucky enough to find peaches, they can still expect great quality. 

“They might be priced higher this year,” she said. “The quality, the flavor will be exquisite.”

For farmers in hard-hit areas, the financial hits can be big.

Near St. Louis, Chris Eckert, a 7th generation peach farmer, said it’s tough to guesstimate just how much he lost until he does all the math at the end of the year.

“Our overall is probably more like half a crop,” Eckert said. “We’re going to be pretty excited about half a crop — if we can get that.”

Two people pack boxes of peaches.
Workers pack up peaches and build cardboard bushel boxes on July 13 at Flamm Orchards in Cobden, Illinois.

Mysteriously, the weather hit different peach varieties in different ways. The GaLa variety took the Midwest cold poorly, while the Red Haven did pretty well. Eckert, other farmers and other industry experts haven’t been able to pin down why.

“That’s kind of the world we live in — the weather is different always,” he said. “These types of one-off situations are not that unusual in our world.”

Eckert said he can’t say for certain this year’s peach shortage can be connected to climate change. His best explanation: Farmers expect nature to produce curious outcomes.

“It’s like, ‘Well, that’s never happened before,’” he said. “‘This disease was never here before. That insect was never here before.’”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture does offer crop insurance for peaches. That means farmers will be able to recoup some of this summer’s loss. In the meantime, farmers like Eckert said this summer that they are hoping that next year will be better.

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