Macon County No 1. in Peaches
With fresh peaches on its automobile tags, a Peach County, a Peachtree City and 55 streets in Atlanta with the word Peachtree in their names, it's pretty clear this is the Peach State. Peaches have long been a Georgia trademark and are the state's official fruit.
But what might not be so well known is that Macon County is the leading peach producing county in the state. According to the 2012 Farm Gate Value Report, peaches were grown on 11,029 acres in Georgia and generated a farm gate value of $33.8 million. Macon County produced the most peaches with 2,515 acres, followed by Peach County with 2,371.
And, of course, Georgia can thank a Macon County farmer for making this the Peach State. The first peaches grown in Georgia were the Elberta variety. Its creator, Marshalville's own Samuel H. Rumph, is credited with being the father of the Georgia Peach Industry. In the late 1800s, the Elberta -- first cultivated on the Rumph place -- was highly successful on the northern markets because of its exceptional color, size and quality.
Franciscan monks first introduced peaches to St. Simons and Cumberland islands along Georgia's coast in 1571. They became widely cultivated in Georgia during the colonial period of the 1700s.
After the Civil War, Georgia growers developed several hardy peach varieties. The first Georgia peaches were shipped to the New York market between 1858 and 1860. They were transported by wagon to Augusta, then by shallow-draft boat to Savannah, and finally by steamship to New York. Georgia earned its "Peach State" designation during the three decades following the Civil War.
In addition to the good ol' Elberta, Georgia now produces more than 40 commercial varieties of peaches divided into two general categories: freestone and clingstone. The fruit of the freestone peach readily breaks away from the stone or pit, while the clingstone adheres to the pit.
Fresh Georgia peaches are available only 16 weeks each year, from mid-May to mid-August.
Georgia has two commercial peach-growing regions. The central region is the largest with about 1.6 million peach trees and 75 percent of the state's production. The southern region produces about 30 million pounds of peaches annually.
Georgia's peach industry is concentrated in Macon, Peach, Crawford and Taylor counties along the fall line, the transition zone between Georgia's Piedmont and Coastal Plain. This area is far enough north to receive sufficient winter chilling, but far enough south to avoid late frosts and guarantee early harvest dates. The early harvest allows premium prices for the crop. Additionally, the sandy loam soils of the fall line are more favorable to peach production than the Piedmont's heavy clays or the Coastal Plain's sands.
There is a small commercial presence in Brooks and Pierce counties in south Georgia, where new varieties suitable for those areas are improving fruit quality. The new varieties seem to be responsible for a surge in the planting of peaches in this region of the state.
Historically, considerable peach production occurred in north Georgia also, but during the 1980s and 1990s acreage declined because of frequent freeze damage and relatively late harvest dates.
Although Georgia is called the Peach State, it actually ranked third in United States peach production in 2012. California harvested 648,000 tons and South Carolina 69,650 tons making them the real peach states.
Each year, Georgia produces more than 130 million pounds of peaches. In 2012, the Georgia peach crop totaled 35,250 tons, up more than 10,000 tons from 2008.
Peaches are the second most popular fruit grown in Georgia behind blueberries. Georgia is also the country's top producer of pecans, peanuts and Vidalia onions. The state’s onions are considered some of the sweetest in the world.
Information taken from the UGA Extension Service website and the New Georgia Encyclopedia