Jun 21, 2010 4:52 PM by Melissa Canone
A dry spring left peaches smaller and later than usual, but
there's a good, sweet crop for the peach festival this weekend,
Ruston-area growers say.
Louie Thompson Jr., who has about 3,500 peach trees in Calhoun,
estimated that his peaches are about three-quarters the usual size
because the weather's been so hot and dry.
"But they got a good sweet taste because it's been so dry," he
He and Joe Mitcham, who has 5,500 trees on 100 acres in Ruston,
said there was very little rain in April and the first weeks of
Too much rain makes for mushy peaches with watered-down flavor,
while a dry season concentrates the sugars, said Mitcham, who has
the largest orchard in a state which had 1,788 growers but only 342
acres in peaches last year.
Last year, those farmers and backyard growers produced $5.1
million worth of fruit - just under 127,800 bushels. That compares
to a $9 million citrus crop on 842 acres.
Peach acreage has plummeted 40 percent in Louisiana since 2000.
"We used to have 300 acres of peaches in the '70s and '80s,"
Mitcham said. He said weather was one reason he is down to 100
acres, but a fungus called oak root rot has killed about 40 percent
of the trees on those acres. The fungus had been kept under control
by a chemical banned in 2005, he said.
Mitcham said he expects this year's harvest to be close to last
year's, but reduced in size by the dry weather.
And since peaches are sold by weight or volume, rather than by
sweetness, the flavor this year won't bring the farmers any extra
"I just charge a certain price and I'm glad to get that,"
Mitcham's peaches are picked by hand and effectively washed
twice - they're floated out of the picking bins to avoid bruising,
then go through a shower-and-brush bath to defuzz them. Prices vary
by condition and size, with five different sizes.
At the 60th Squire Creek Louisiana Peach Festival Friday and
Saturday in Ruston, they'll be sold "by the peck, by the bushel,
by the bag, however folks want them," said Nancy Bergeron,
spokeswoman for the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.
There's no limit for growers, she said. "We say, 'Bring all you
can bring,' and they usually go home having sold everything they
have brought," she said.