Peaches were first introduced to what is now Georgia in 1571 - by Franciscan monks working at the Spanish missions on Cumberland and St. Simons Islands. Cherokee Indians also cultivated peaches on what is now mainland Georgia. Georgia colonists continued to grow peaches in the 1700s, and the production continued - although not on a large scale - through the early republic and early antebellum periods. It was Raphael Moses, a planter from Columbus, who is credited as the first person to market peaches within Georgia, in 1851. Moses was also the first person to successfully market peaches outside of the South. He developed a method of shipping peaches in champagne baskets, which helped to preserve the flavor of the fruit longer. Between 1858 and 1860, Georgia peaches were shipped to New York via the port at Savannah.
But it was after the Civil War that Georgia growers began large-scale commercial production of peaches, and in the three decades following the war the production became so prolific that Georgia earned the nickname the “Peach State.” Peach production continued to increase into the early 1900s, reaching its highest point in 1928. This was due primarily to Samuel R. Rumph - often called the “Father of the Georgia Peach Industry.” In 1875 he developed the Elberta peach (named for his wife), which maintained its texture and flavor for long periods of time - meaning it could be shipped to nationwide markets with less icing necessary. By 1880 Elberta peaches were being marketed extensively; Rumph also developed means of transporting peaches more efficiently by railroads. Because of its sweet taste and longevity, the Elberta remained the most popular variety of peaches until the 1960s.
While Georgia still is often referred to as the “Peach State,” today it ranks third nationally in peach production - behind California and South Carolina. Georgia continues to enjoy important production and marketing advantages; it is close to eastern markets and normally has good prices because of its early harvests and high-quality fruit. Most peaches grown in Georgia are sold in the wholesale market, with a much smaller percentage sold at roadside markets. There is little of the actual processing of peaches that takes place in Georgia.
Georgia now produces more than forty varieties of commercial peaches, which are divided into two general categories - freestone and clingstone. The fruit of the freestone peach easily breaks away from the stone (or pit), while the clingstone adheres to the stone. Fresh Georgia peaches are available for approximately sixteen weeks per year, from mid-May to mid-August. There are two primary commercial peach-growing regions in Georgia. The central region is the largest with about 1.6 million peach trees and 75 percent of the state’s peach crop. The central region is located primarily in Crawford, Macon, Peach, and Taylor counties. This area - located along the Fall Line - is located far enough north to receive adequate winter chilling, yet far enough south to generally avoid late frosts - which guarantees early harvests. The early harvest allows for premium prices for Georgia’s peach crop. The sandy, loam soils of the Fall Line area are very favorable to peach production. The southern region of peach production is centered in Brooks and Pierce Counties, and produces about 30 million pounds of peaches annually. In total each year, Georgia produces over 130 million pounds of peaches!