New varieties for longer shelf life, better sales

A firmer peach hangs on fruit trees in the southeastern part of the United States. The “Gulf” series of peaches can fully ripen on the fruit tree. These peaches upgrade the meaning of longer shelf life and greater quality. The grower who also sells them at a farmers’ market or roadside stand can display them longer to potential customers because they can better withstand the hot days of summer. That benefit can produce greater sales.

Through a joint breeding program at the University of Georgia Research and Education Center in Attapulgus, Ga., the Gulf series of peaches—Gulfking, Gulfcrest, Gulfcrimson and Gulfprince—were developed cooperatively with the U.S. Depart-ment of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Georgia and the University of Florida.

Photos courtesy of Tom Beckman, USDA ARS.
Gulfcrest peaches ripen early, but have a long shelf life.

Retired Breeder Wayne Sherman of the University of Florida started developing the line in the 1980s, says Gerard Krewer, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and younger breeders started working extensively with the line about 12 years ago.

The series, which includes the 2007 release of Gulfcrimson, is based on non-melting type germplasm from Brazil, Mexico and the United States, rather than the melting type commonly used for fresh-market varieties. Because of this, they soften at a slower pace as they approach maturity.

“This provides much better handling characteristics for growers and allows them to let the fruit ripen more before picking and shipping,” says Tom Beckman, research horticulturist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Byron, Ga. “This, in turn, results in a better fruit for the consumer in terms of eating quality, specifically sugar content and flavor.”

Gulf series varieties

The Gulf series of peaches are shaped better than most early varieties and have good red skin color. The series displays virtually no split or shattered pits, which Beckman says has been a major failing of many of the currently grown early season melting types. The Gulf series has also been more reliable in setting and carrying a crop each year than the older melting types. Because of their firmness, they bruise less easily.

Gulfcrimson is the latest release of the non-melting varieties and is suggested for trial as an alternative to Junegold.

Gulfking trees require about 350 chilling hours and bloom early. They need to be planted on hilltops and slopes with good air drainage for frost protection. The trees resist bacterial spot and are suggested for trial as an alternative to the Flordaking variety. The fruit from the Gulfking variety is very firm with a sweet and yellow flesh. Shape-wise, they are symmetrical and large for early-season peaches. They are up to 2.4 inches across and typically weigh 3.5 to 4.2 ounces. Gulfking varieties ripen in late April and early May. Fruit have 80 percent to 90 percent red over a deep yellow to orange ground color. Breeders advise growers to pick Gulfking varieties promptly when they ripen because they won’t hang on the tree long after the ground color changes from green to orange-yellow.

Gulfcrest trees require about 500 chilling hours and produce very firm peaches with sweet and yellow flesh. They are 2 to 2.4 inches across and weigh 2.8 to 4.2 ounces. This variety, which has a long shelf life, ripens in mid-May and carries a nearly 100 percent red over a deep yellow ground color. They are symmetrical and known for their early ripening, high quality and exceptional firmness. However, their fruit are smaller (about 2 inches) in the last picking. Gulfcrest resists bacterial spot and is suggested for trial as an alternative to Flordacrest.

Gulfprince trees require about 400 chilling hours and produce very firm, sweet fruit with yellow flesh. These peaches are 2.5 to 2.75 inches across and weigh 4.9 to 5.3 ounces. They have 45 percent to 55 percent red over a deep yellow to orange ground color. The fruit ripens in early June. Gulfprince is resistant to bacterial spot and is suggested for trial as an alternative to the Juneprince variety. Beckman says they have occasionally had a problem with internal breakdown and are only suggested for use in local and U-pick applications.

Gulfcrimson trees require 400 chilling hours and produce very firm, sweet peaches with yellow flesh. They ripen in late May and grow up to 2.6 inches in diameter and weigh 4.5 to 5.3 ounces. The fruit, which is resistant to bacterial spot, is typically 80 percent red over a deep yellow to orange. Gulfcrimson is suggested for trial as an alternative to the Junegold variety.

Adaptability and improved handling

The Gulf series of peaches grow best in a geographical line running from Charleston, S.C., to southeastern Texas, and generally north of Interstate Highway 10 running through several states. Their adaptability to growers in these states makes them ideal for greater profits.

Breeders advise farmers to pick Gulfking varieties early from the tree because they won’t last long after the ground color changes.

“Growers appreciate the improved fruit handling, appearance and quality characteristics, but seem most impressed by their cropping reliability,” Beckman says.

Mike Abbott raises 550 acres of peaches in Brooks County, Ga., and has been raising Gulf peaches for about seven years. He has tried them all but the newest, the Gulfcrimson. He plans to plant some of those trees in the future.

Abbott likes the longer window of opportunity that the non-melting Gulf varieties give him over the melting ones. The fruit stays firmer and allows him to market longer to his fruit stand and grocery chain customers. He goes through a broker to market to grocery chain customers in Florida, Tennessee and Texas.

Later in the marketing season, Abbott says melting varieties don’t hold up to the standards of customers, and he adds if the varieties don’t look good and taste good at point of sale, customers won’t buy them. They are main reasons he started raising the Gulf series of peaches.

Early to mid-season peaches

While Abbot appreciates the longer marketing season for late-ripening varieties, he would like to see early to mid-season varieties last longer for customers. Perhaps a non-melting early or mid-season variety will do the trick. At the present, he says days are few between full bloom and harvest. His earliest varieties reach full bloom during the last week in February and first week of March. He starts picking peaches in the last week of April.

PHOTO BY Thomas Beckman, USDA.

Abbott believes if he can extend the early to mid-season marketing of Gulf peaches, he can compete better with South Carolina growers who raise more peaches overall. He hopes researchers will come up with such a variety to help him market more peaches.

Growers don’t mind sharing their positive thoughts on the Gulf series. “Unfortunately, we don’t have much of a channel for getting direct feedback from consumers,” Beckman says, “but our in-house post-harvest work has documented their superior eating quality. Several backyard growers made a point of sending us e-mails extolling their superior eating quality.”

Krewer says some consumers may not like the firmer fruit, but he says the overall reaction from them is positive. To better satisfy the needs of the consumer, he adds that a grower will raise a mixture of melting and non-melting varieties.

“These varieties will help the peach production in the southeastern coastal area,” Krewer says. For the first time, we can have much higher quality during the season in April and May.”

The Florida Foundation Seed Assoc-iation serves as the licensing agent for these varieties and is promoting them through its Web site during University of Georgia and University of Florida Cooperative Extension Services meetings. To contact the association, call 850-594-4721, or visit http://www.ffsp.net.

The author is a freelance writer in Danville, Va., and can be contacted by e-mail at rockyagwriter@aol.com.