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Warmer weather leads to early peach harvest

Ready or not, the Rogue Valley's peach growers have begun harvesting an early-arriving crop.

The first local peaches don't usually come off the trees until the second half of July. So some growers were taken by surprise when early varieties were already ripening.

Chris Pellett of Old Stage Farm was giving a tour of her orchards, including 450 peach trees, bearing 15 varieties, when she discovered it was time to break out the bins.

"We weren't even looking to see if the fruit was ready yet," Pellett said. "I looked up and said, 'Oh, my goodness, I think we better start picking' "

On land just east of Voorhies Road, Sam DeSimone has planted peach, apple and pear trees once devoted solely to Reter Fruit pears. The harvested fruit is sold at the family agriculture outlet at the old SOS packing plant.

This is DeSimone's fifth harvest, but effectively the third for commercial purposes. He anticipates picking about 40 tons this summer, a modest increase over last year.

"We had a really good fruit set this year, so we did a lot of thinning," DeSimone said.

After two weeks of intense heat, last Tuesday's thunderstorm created different concerns for DeSimone, who grows June Flame, July Flame, O'Henry and Suncrest varieties on eight acres.

"We didn't get any hail, but the wind blew some peach trees over and blew a lot of fruit off," he said. "We estimate it was about 10 percent; once they hit the ground they're done. Water is going to be an issue, but it hasn't been an issue yet."

Harry & David once had 300 acres of peaches in the Rogue Valley. Today, the 1-800-Flowers.com unit has 55 acres in production east of Talent and off Old Stage Road near Jacksonville. Another 11 acres near Phoenix are scheduled to come online in the near future.

Harry & David's five varieties are grown with "Fruit of the Month Club" members in mind.

"We don't supply the whole gamut, but we try to cover as much of it as we can," said Matt Borman, who oversees orchard operations.

On the heels of 2014's early harvest, Harry & David was prepared for an even earlier go date.

"From early on we could tell we were on a pathway to an early harvest," Borman said. "We have certain benchmarks: bloom, pit hardening and peach quality."

Harry & David started picking July 6, five days earlier than last year.

"Normal is the 21st," Borman said.

The company's peach harvest, preceding its massive pear picking, usually takes 30 to 31 days. Borman said he anticipates the final peaches will be put in the bin Aug. 10-12.

Not everyone, however, is ready to pick just yet.

Terry Light of Hillcrest Orchards said it will be another couple of weeks before its four varieties are picked.

"We went through the last storm without any damage," he said. "We just want to keep the stuff watered right now."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/EconomicEdge.

Javier Mena reaches for a peach Friday while harvesting an early crop off of Voorhies Road in Medford. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch