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South Carolina on Track for Bumper Peach Crop

peaches

Editor’s Note: Updated April 6, 2016

Early field reports from peach farmers across South Carolina are optimistic, but growers are still saying prayers and crossing fingers until all chances of frost have passed.

Although the outlook now is a sharp contrast from this time two years ago, it’s too soon not to worry. With peaches, a lot of things can go wrong, and growers are taking the hurdles as they come.

After delays from torrential fall rains, growers immediately began planting new trees, installing irrigation lines and pruning established orchards. But by the end of 2015 they were bracing for the possibility of a no-so-stellar crop, mainly because — long story short — deciduous trees, including peach trees, require a certain amount of “chill hours” to produce flowers and bear fruit. By the end of December, unseasonably warm temperatures had kept the number of chill hours to about 250, about half the chill time normally tallied by then. But colder weather in February helped.

Peach trees drop their leaves in the fall and go into a developmental state known as dormancy. As winter progresses, the trees enter another state called “rest.” Think of it as a bear in hibernation. While in their rest stage, trees cannot grow. Chilling temperatures are necessary for the trees to overcome the period of rest. Budbreak and normal growth occur after a peach tree has stopped hibernating. Peach trees in South Carolina require 800 to 1,000 chill hours, depending on the variety.

Thankfully, winter weather finally arrived in February and with it came enough consecutive days below 45 degrees for the trees to chill.

“Winter definitely came later than expected but once it got here, it came in with a bang,” said Kevin Rogers of Richter Produce. “Since then, we’ve had consistent highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s. We are well beyond the minimum chill hours necessary and look forward to a great peach season.”

Maybe even the best yet, said Andy Rollins, a Clemson University extension agent in the Upstate.

So far, the possibility of a plentiful crop is good but not guaranteed. And even if farmers expect a break from the recent stretch of mediocre years, they’re cautious to avoid jinxing the opportunity. April is crucial. Farmers hope this month won’t bring a late freeze, heavy frost or other conditions that can devastate delicate peach blooms. Unfortunately, that’s happened the last three years.

Despite the late frost last year, however, farmers across South Carolina still produced about 70,000 tons of peaches, second in the nation to California. Georgia finished third.

If all goes as well this year, Chappell Farms, home of “Pat’s Pride” peaches in Barnwell County will begin picking its early varieties by May 10. They are the first of Richter’s three South Carolina peach farms to begin production. McLeod Farms in McBee and Cotton Hope Farms in Monetta should begin peach production around May 15.

Suwannee Sweet Onions in Season

generationSweet news, folks. Suwannee onions from the fields of Lee County, Florida have arrived, and it looks like we’re in for a huge crop. They’re the first set of sweets to ship from Generation Farms. Vidalias begin shipping in late April.

Look for the Suwannee label and get them while you can. And when you get them home, store the onions in a cool, dry spot with ample airflow. A worn-out pair of sheer pantyhose works wonders. Trust us, the hose helps protect the onions from nicks and bruises. Or store sweet onions in the refrigerator, but never in plastic bags. They’ll go bad much faster.

THE PANTYHOSE METHOD:
• Place an onion in the toe of the pantyhose.
• Tie a small knot.
• Keep going until you fill an entire leg.
•  When you need an onion, cut below a knot.

IMG_1599TIP:
Keep in mind that sweet onions are high in sugar and water content, and low in sulfur compounds. (That’s what causes tears when you cut an onion.) Because of these properties, sweet onions aren’t suited for long-term storage, so use them within several weeks of purchase. To extend their shelf life, wrap each onion in a paper towel or a piece of newspaper and place it in the refrigerator. Steer clear of plastic bags, however. Onions won’t keep long in stuffy conditions.

IMG_1598For long-term storage, sweet onions can be frozen, but because their texture changes they should be used only for cooking. Chop the onions and place them on a cookie sheet, directly into the freezer. When frozen, store the onions in plastic bags or freezer containers. If you prefer whole onions, peel, wash, core and freeze in plastic bags.

RECIPES:
Go straight to the source — The Sweet Onion Source — for a variety of ways to enjoy Suwannee sweets onions from Generation Farms.

Richter Produce Announces Historic Merger; Welcomes Generation Farms

“We will strive every day to make the world a better place for the next generation.”

The merger of two major family farms rooted in the South stole major headlines during the Southeast Produce Council Expo in Hollywood, Florida, and quickly circulated in top produce publications that broke the story.

Soon after Richter and Company revealed that Stanley Farms and Coggins Farms were merging under the Generation Farms brand, buyers and reporters swarmed quickly to gather details during the Southern Exposure expo. The official deal was done quietly on March 1, with representatives from both farms and Richter celebrating with a gentlemanly handshake. Most of the current staff from both farms are expected to remain on board.

Richter and Co. has marketed Stanley Farms since the 1970s and will represent the newly formed Generations Farm, as well. www.generationsfarm.com

“The coming together of these two farms under one banner is extremely remarkable,” said Kevin Rogers, National Business Development Director for Richter and Co. “To have this much knowledge under one roof is unprecedented. It’s a monumental move for these two families who are creating a first-of-its-kind industry-leading model. By working together, we can accomplish so much more for our consumers and farm families, and more importantly, help secure the livelihood and longevity of the American farmer on whom millions depend daily.

“Our motto is: ‘Striving each day to make the world a better place for the next generation,’” Rogers said. “And that’s what we intend to do, whether that’s exploring better farm practices, developing new ways to conserve natural resources, building stronger bonds between our farm families, or improving working conditions and wages for farm employees.”

Generation Farms is the largest grower, processor, packer and shipper of carrots and sweet onions on the East Coast. It also grows sweet potatoes, green beans, bell peppers, berries and watermelons.

Generation Farms came to fruition when Cotton Wood Agriculture acquired Stanley Farms and Coggins Farms, two legendary produce families. The privately held company is one of many tied to Microsoft mogul Bill Gates.

The Stanleys bring to the table three generations of onion expertise. Their name is synonymous with Vidalia sweet onions and family farming in Vidalia, Georgia. R.T. Stanley began his agriculture career as a sharecropper in 1964 and eventually bought his own land. He grew his first five acres of sweet onions in 1975. Today, Stanley Farms, operated by the patriarch’s sons Tracey, Brian and Vince, grows more than 1,000 acres of onions, including sweet Georgia reds.

The Coggins family, known throughout the Southeast for growing carrots, has a long history of farming innovation and is one of the most knowledgeable in organic crop management. Their agricultural roots began in Georgia three generations ago. Their approach to farming remains as straightforward as it was in the 1940s when Perry Coggins began raising dairy cows and crops: “Quality is mandatory, always produce the best product possible, and treat people right.”

Now with both families on one team, Generation is positioning itself as a catalyst for industry change and part of its mission is to elevate food quality, safety and sustainability to best in class.

Mike Coggins has been named director of ag operations; Vince Stanley is director of production; and his brother, Brian, is director of sales and marketing. The conglomerate is now headquartered in Lake Park, Georgia.

With farmland now spread across Georgia and Florida, Generations is establishing itself as the best alternative to West Coast produce, while holding to its promise to act as good stewards of the environment.

The farms’ management team is a powerhouse of experts who once worked for global agribusiness leaders like BASF, Bayer and Bunge. All that brainpower and expertise is constantly researching next-generation innovations to improve planting, harvesting and packing operations. Behind the scenes, farmers, employees, environmental experts and many more are working to create a company that is the leader in innovation and industry change, not only in food safety, but also in sustainability.

“As much as we were firmly entrenched in the marketplace, I knew we could (never build) the professional organization that we now have,” Vince Stanley said. “This collaboration has done that for us.”

The organization brings together professional accountants, a legal team, food safety experts and a human resources staff. “We even have a new agronomy team that guides our farmers, and a research and development component that is planting test plots, looking at new crops and moving us to the future,” Stanley said.

The mission of Generation Farms is to leave the land much better than they found it so that generations of future farmers can carry forth the tradition.

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Coggins Farms & Stanley Farms Joins Together to Form Generation Farms