China leads in greenhouse peaches

Dan Wheat/Capital Press Desmond Layne, WSU Tree Fruit Research Center professor of pomology, former peach expert at Clemson University, Jan. 21, 2014.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — China has taken to growing peaches in greenhouses and it’s a beneficial practice that could be done in the United States, a leading peach expert says.

China still grows most of its peaches outdoors but has up to 30,000 acres in greenhouses, Desmond Layne, Washington State University professor of pomology, told growers at the North Central Washington Stone Fruit Day at the Wenatchee Convention Center, Jan. 21.

“That’s more than Georgia’s and South Carolina’s peach production outside combined. It’s a lot,” said Layne, a Clemson University peach expert before becoming an endowed chair and tree fruit extension program leader at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee a year ago.

China’s greenhouse peaches are low-tech with no supplemental heat or lighting and extremely profitable with good-quality fruit that sells for five times the price of outdoor fruit, Layne said.

Plantings are high-density with harvest starting in the second year and in early March in a latitude similar to Washington’s, he said.

Fruit is large and not damaged by frost, hail, rain or wind and the Chinese bill it as “pollution-free,” he said, noting that means pesticide-free. The sides of greenhouses can be lifted for ventilation.

“The Chinese have a growing middle class. They give fruit as gifts. If you’re going to someone’s house, instead of a bottle of wine, you take fruit,” Layne said.

China grows 50 percent of the world’s peaches and nectarines and consumes most of them domestically, he said. Greece, Italy and Spain follow in production with the U.S. trailing at 5 percent. California is the largest U.S. producer, followed by South Carolina, Georgia and Washington.

Layne said it’s important for growers to field test new varieties for five years before planting them in large scale because they can develop differently when grown in a different environment than the one in which they were bred.

The DA meter is a new means of measuring chlorophyll absorbency to test maturity of fruit while it’s still on trees without damaging it, he said. Temperature is key in post-harvest storage with 32 degrees for two weeks being reasonable, he said.


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