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Washington peach producers are hoping to step in to fill a void in the market caused by severe crop losses in other peach-producing states this season.

South Carolina, which is the country’s second-largest peach-producing state after California, lost 80 percent of its peaches in a cold snap this spring, B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington State Fruit Commission, reported at the commission’s May board meeting. Georgia, also a major peach producer, may have lost half its crop. Missouri lost its crop, and Michigan could be down 40 percent, he said.

Thurlby said the Washington State Fruit Commission’s field representatives have been contacting retailers in the Southeast and Midwest, where they think there will be good opportunities to sell Washington peaches this season. Southeastern producers usually hit the early market and are finished by the end of July.

"We’re hopefully going to sneak in and get a couple of store groups to merchandise Washington peaches, and carry them through the season," he said.

California had plenty of chilling hours last winter and should have a good crop this year, Thurlby said. California peach, plum, and nectarine growers were expecting to produce 50 million cartons this season, up from 47.5 million in 2006. Estimates compiled by the industry on May 1 were for 20 million cartons of peaches, 19 million cartons of nectarines, and 11 cartons of plums, according to the California Tree Fruit Agreement. However, retailers are looking for peaches from other areas, in addition to California, Thurlby said.

Some Washington orchards suffered some cold damage in the spring, but Thurlby said the commission is holding with its estimate of 1,300 to 1,400 tons. "We have a crop out there, and probably a full one," he said.

The board decided to keep the assessment rate for peaches at $12 per ton, after discussing an increase. The commission has budgeted $116,500 for peach promotions. Thurlby said a $2 increase would generate an additional $36,000 for promotions, which would not make a huge difference in what the commission could do. "We still feel we can do something that puts us ahead of other states, such as Colorado and South Carolina, which don’t have representation out there beyond the sales organizations," he said.

The commission’s summer fruit promotions, which cover apricots, nectarines, and plums, as well as peaches, will include a retail incentive program, a summer tour, consumer research, and work with the media.