From the looks of the activity at the Hutton Peach Farm, the popular summer fruit would appear to be having a banner year.
On Thursday, the farm’s store was filled with half-bushel boxes of peaches and workers were restocking the shelves almost as quickly as a box went out the front door.
Just in the past week, workers picked 1,600 boxes of one variety of peaches and 1,000 boxes of another. And one variety, the Bounty peach, will grow to nearly a pound.
Jay Hutton said this year’s crop may last all the way until Labor Day.
“It’s been a great year,” Hutton said “We’ve had multiple varieties that all set this year.”
That’s far better than the rest of Texas, where peaches are scarce or nonexistent.
Growing peaches in Texas isn’t easy.
If the crop isn’t hurt by a late freeze, it can be damaged by a spring hailstorm. This year, the issue was the nonexistent winter.
Peach trees require a certain number of chill hours to “grow, flower, and develop properly,” according to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. While there were enough chill hours in North Texas, orchards farther south and east had problems.
At Cooper Farms in Freestone County, southeast of Dallas, which typically ships peaches to North Texas HEB and Central Market stores, the last peach of the season has already been picked.
“The 2017 peach crop has come to an end,” the grower posted on its website. “There are no more peaches to be picked for the year.”
For Marty Mika, HEB’s business development manager-produce, the lack of a Texas peach crop has meant searching for the summer fruit on both the East and West coasts. The grocer has peaches in stores from South Carolina and California and plans to have them from Washington state later this summer.
In Georgia, peaches suffered from a late frost.
It’s been a challenging year. I really feel for the Texas peach folks. It seems like they’ve had more challenging years than not.
Marty Mika, HEB/Central Market
“It’s been a challenging year,” Mika said. “I really feel for the Texas peach folks. It seems like they’ve had more challenging years than not.”
In Parker County, the Huttons will be the main ones selling at Saturday’s Parker County Peach Festival. A few smaller growers may show up, but the Huttons will still be picking Saturday morning to provide enough peaches for the festival and their store at the farm.
Many of the older growers with smaller farms have retired or are slowly getting out of the business.
A few miles down the road from the Hutton Peach Farm, John and Jean O’Bannon are down to just 10 peach trees. The rest of their orchard is too old to produce fruit. The couple, both in their 80s, probably won’t replant new trees, since it takes three to four years to produce a crop.
With the difficulties of peach growing, Jean O’Bannon said she doesn’t think many of the younger generation will be getting into the business.
“It’s hard way to make a living,” Jean O’Bannon said. “If it rains too little, you’re in trouble and if it rains too much you’re in trouble. Then if you don’t get a late freeze and get a crop, you’ve got to hope the deer don’t eat all of your peaches.”
But none of those issues has deterred the 28-year-old Hutton. He’s the third generation of the family to get involved in the business and has been helping out since he was teenager.
It also helps that the Huttons don’t just rely on peaches. The family started its commercial peach operation in 1981 but it also has a thriving honey business, shipping bees around the country to pollinate fruit and almonds. The family also owns the Ridgmar Farmer’s Market in Fort Worth, another venue for selling its produce.
Four years ago, Jay Hutton planted new peach trees in one of the family orchards and will replant another orchard in the next year or two. That way, the farm will have peaches at three different locations.
“I don’t think my dad had the intention of doing another large orchard,” Hutton said. “But me and my cousin wanted to keep this going.”
Parker County Peach Festival
The 33rd annual Parker County Peach Festival is 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday in downtown Weatherford. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children 12 and younger.