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NC Peach Growers Consider Self-Imposed Fee

Duncan McFadyen

North Carolina's peach industry has been shrinking, but farmers still growing the summer fruit hope a little extra money will turn things around.  Over the next month, they'll be voting on a self-imposed assessment ranging from $100 to $350 a year to help fund peach research and marketing.

People can tend to forget North Carolina has peaches.  Georgia calls itself The Peach State and South Carolina's so proud of its peaches it has that big old water tower in the shape of one.

California is actually the biggest peach producer – and if all you've ever had is a West Coast peach from the grocery store, you are missing out, says Art Williams.

"Ours are probably 200 percent sweeter or more," says Williams, who runs a peach farm in Eagle Springs, North Carolina called Kalawi Farms.  "We've got a China Pearl, which is a white peach, and it almost tastes like an ice cream cone when you get one ripe. It's just really sweet."

The China Pearl peach variety was developed right here in North Carolina.  The NC Department of Agriculture and NC State University do peach research, but farmers are worried that will end as budget cuts and staff retirements ripple through the system.  

So the NC Peach Growers Society – of which Williams is vice president – has proposed an annual assessment of up to $350 on all 112 commercial peach growers in the state, depending on orchard size.  The money will fund research and marketing.

Most other crops in the North Carolina have an annual assessment, but peaches haven't had one since 2006. For this new fee to kick in, two-thirds of the growers will need to vote in favor of it. 

Williams thinks it'll pass, because they understand the need: "You know, strawberries, blueberries, apples – there's a lot of apple growers in North Carolina, they've got a larger presence as well as strawberries, so we're just trying to keep our place at the table."

And by that, he really means your table.