CLEMSON, S.C. — The South has plenty of rivalries. Auburn and Alabama fight over football dominance. North Carolina and Tennessee battle over barbecue.
And then there is Georgia, which is getting kicked to the curb by South Carolina over the fruit that defines its very identity.
For more than 100 years, since Georgia first began shipping peaches beyond its borders, the state has claimed the fruit as its own.
An image of the peach is on the official state quarter and its license plates. In Atlanta, where a giant peach drops from a downtown building each New Year’s Eve, a driver can get lost among all the streets with variations on the name Peachtree.
But here is the harsh truth: South Carolina has shipped out more than twice as many peaches as Georgia so far this summer. And it has been that way for years.
It gets worse. At the end of July, the University of Georgia will officially close its peach program. The head peach horticulturist left the job a couple of years ago. When budgets tightened recently, university officials decided to simply eliminate the position altogether. (Programs for blueberries and vegetables had to go, too.)
And if that was not enough, last week Georgia’s premier peach farmers had to head across the state line to South Carolina for a regional peach conference.
“Georgia may be the peach state, but we’re the tastier peach state,” said Desmond R. Layne, an associate professor at Clemson University and the man who arranged the conference, which included a tasting of 40 varieties of peaches grown in his state.
The Georgia peach farmers, grim-faced beneath their John Deere caps, sat in the auditorium unmoved by the enthusiasm of their South Carolina counterparts. Quantity, they said, cannot replace quality.
“They’re trying to make it up in volume but they can’t best us,” said Will McGehee of Pearson Farm, pointing out that South Carolina’s nights are too cool for truly great peaches.
“The key to a good peach is a hot night,” Mr. McGehee said. “What makes it miserable for humans makes it perfect for peaches.”
Georgia began its peach dominance as the South rebuilt itself after the Civil War. In the late 1800s, the state began shipping the Elberta — a firm, yellow-fleshed peach named for a farmer’s wife — to New York and other East Coast cities.
But by the 1950s, South Carolina had taken over as the biggest peach-producing state. Now, although quantities have dropped, it ships 90,000 tons a year compared with Georgia’s 40,000 tons, according to United States Department of Agriculture statistics. (New Jersey follows with 32,000 tons.)Read Full Article