By Henrich Brunke and Min Chang, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California.
Profile updated September 2013 by Diane Huntrods, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Profile updated March 2012 by Greg McKee, North Dakota State University and Kimberly L. Morgan, assistant professor, Mississippi State University.
Cultivation of peaches (Prunus persica) began in China as early as 2000 B.C. By 300 B.C. Greeks and Persians were enjoying peaches. In the first century A.D., Romans began cultivating peaches. From Italy, the cultivation of peaches spread throughout Europe and to the Americas, where the early settlers planted them all along the eastern coast. By the mid-1700s, peaches were so plentiful in the United States that botanists thought of them as native fruits.
The two basic types of peaches are clingstone and freestone. With clingstone peaches, the flesh “clings” to the "stone" of the peach, making it difficult to separate, and thus more suitable for processing. In addition, this variety retains its flavor and soft texture during processing. According to NASS (2010), roughly 80 percent of processed peaches are canned and 16 percent are frozen. Processed peaches may also be dried, prepared as baby food and concentrated for fruit juice.
The pit of freestone peaches "freely" separates from the flesh, making it ideal for fresh consumption. Freestone peaches are generally larger than clingstones with a firmer, less juicy texture. While most commonly eaten fresh, these peaches may also be frozen and dried.
As of 2012, peaches are commercially produced in 23 states. The top four states in peach production are California, South Carolina, Georgia and New Jersey. California is a significant producer of both fresh and processed peaches, while South Carolina and Georgia mainly produce fresh peaches. (NASS 2013)
In 2012 California continued to be the dominant peach-producing state, accounting for nearly 74 percent of peach production and supplying nearly 51 percent of the fresh peach crop and more than 97 percent of processing peaches (NASS 2013).
The bearing acreage of peach trees has been declining since 1998. By 2012 the United States had 112,880 acres of peach trees in production. That year's peach crop dropped to 965,420 tons, down from 1.0 million tons the previous year, and was valued at more than $631.2 million, up from $588.3 million in 2011. Of that quantity, 490,320 tons were sold as fresh produce and 475,100 tons were processed. Typically, the majority of processed peaches are canned (364,640 tons), while the rest are either frozen (90,210 tons) or dried (9,800 tons). (NASS 2013)
California clingstone peaches are available from mid-July to mid-September, while the California freestone varieties are harvested from April 20 through October 10. The Southern states of Georgia and South Carolina provide fresh market peaches from May through July, and the peach-producing Northern states harvest from July through September. In addition, development of early season varieties with low-chill hour growing requirements has led to establishment of new orchards in central and south Florida.
The top producer of peaches is typically China, followed by the European Union (EU) and the United States. According to FAS, Chinese peach production increased in 2010, reaching 10.0 million metric tons (MT), as did the EU's production, which dropped to 3.8 million MT. China and the EU produce more peaches destined for fresh domestic consumption than for processing.
Grower prices for all varieties of peaches averaged $654 per ton in 2012, up from $564 per ton in 2011. The average grower price for fresh peaches was $975 per ton in 2012, and the average grower price for processed peaches was $323 per ton. The average price per ton for canned peaches in 2012 was $345, and the average price for frozen peaches was $272. That same year, grower prices in California averaged $726 per ton for fresh freestone, while grower prices for processed clingstone averaged $348 per ton and for processed freestone averaged $242 per ton. (NASS 2013)
Annual per person consumption of peaches in the United States peaked at 13 pounds in the early 1970s. By 2008 annual consumption had dropped to 8.8 pounds per person. Fresh peach consumption actually increased to 5.1 pounds per person that year, and canned consumption decreased from 7 pounds per person in the 1970s to 3.0 pounds per person in 2008. (ERS)
The United States is a net exporter of peaches. In 2012, the country exported peaches valued at nearly $200.1 million. Of that amount, fresh peach exports accounted for nearly $173.4 million, a 17 percent increase from 2011, and processed peach exports accounted for more than $26.7 million, a slight 1 percent drop from the previous year. (FAS 2013)
The top destination for U.S. peaches in 2012 was Canada, which purchased fresh peaches valued at more than $79.2 million and processed peaches valued at more than $9.7 million. That same year, Mexico purchased fresh peaches valued at nearly $40.7 million and processed peaches valued at more than $14.5 million. (FAS 2013)
The United States imported peaches valued at around $114.1 million in 2012. The majority of the imports were processed peaches, which were valued at $90.2 million, a 4 percent increase from 2011. (FAS 2013)
China was the main supplier, providing processed peaches valued at more than $60.4 million. Chile was the other major supplier, providing fresh peaches valued at $22.2 million and processed peaches valued at $6.0 million. (FAS 2013)
U.S. peach producers face several challenges: the high cost of domestic production, the effects of high levels of plantings a decade ago and the increased supply of peaches, especially low-priced canned peaches, from other countries. Higher production costs can be attributed to the dramatic rise in labor, energy, chemicals, fertilizer and equipment costs in the last few years.
Given the intensive management required to maintain peach orchards, access to consistent, reliable, labor force is of critical importance to the long-term survival of the U.S. peach industry.
Consumer research conducted in the mid-2000s revealed buyer frustration with mealy textures, fruit browning and lack of sweetness, which are caused by post-harvest chilling injury and lack of ripening prior to harvest. Rising consumer awareness of the associated health benefits of fresh fruit consumption and expanding interest in purchasing locally-sourced produce, combined with documented market preferences for tree-ripened fruit, provide the U.S. peach industry with unique opportunities to encourage market education and growth.
Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
Fruit and Tree Nuts Yearbook Spreadsheet Files, ERS, USDA.
Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA.
U.S. per capita food availability, ERS, USDA.
Profile prepared August 2002 and updated September 2013.
Links checked March 2012.