Fruits and Vegetables in Georgia
Fruits and Vegetables provide year-round crops to Georgia growers and had a Farm Gate Value of nearly $1 billion in 2010. Blueberries, peaches, carrots, olives, blackberries, apples, strawberries, grapes, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatos, cantaloupe, watermelon, squash, sweet corn, Vidalias©, bell peppers, pumpkins, muscadines, snap peas and greens are all grown in Georgia at different times of the year.
In 2010, onions provided the largest Farm Gate Value for vegetables at $139 million followed by watermelon and bell peppers. For fruits, blueberries were most prevalent followed by peaches.
The vegetable industry in Georgia is one of the most diverse and fastest growing sectors. Georgia ranks among the top four states for fresh market vegetable area harvested, production and value. The economic impact of the vegetable industry including production and processing generated a total economic impact of $2.3 billion and accounted for more than 15,000 jobs in 2010.
Growing, Harvesting and Processing
Many fruits and vegetables involve intricate irrigation systems, often through a process called drip irrigation. These systems are installed in the ground where the seeds are planted to provide adequate water so that these fruits and vegetables can grow while also using the smallest amount of water possible to yield a favorable crop.
Fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides are applied to most fruits and vegetables over time, providing for safe, bountiful crops. For example, a peach tree in middle Georgia is currently threatened by at least 12 different pests that can ruin the crop or make it unsafe for human consumption. The application of these crop protection products ensures that the fruits and vegetables you eat are safe and affordable.
Once harvest time comes for these crops, most are hand picked by workers who are skilled and experienced in picking certain crops. There are important guidelines to follow regarding a fruit or vegetable’s ripeness and freshness, and these workers know which crops are ready to be picked and which ones need to continue growing for a few more days or weeks. When most crops are picked, they are put directly into the boxes you purchase them in at the grocery store and weighed to guarantee the weight on the box is what they actually weigh. Then, they are put into a refrigerated truck and taken directly to a processing facility, where they are further inspected and weighed before moving to the grocery store.
A few growers in Georgia use mechanical pickers to pick fruits and vegetables that will be used for further processing. Further processing includes the production of things like jellies, jams and salad dressing, but the fruits and vegetables you purchase at the grocery store are almost always picked by hand. These harvesters provide an efficient way to pick the crops, but they often damage the crops and miss some as well.
The harvest season for fresh blueberries in Georgia is late-May through mid-July, but frozen and canned blueberries are available year-round in most supermarkets. In Georgia, blueberries are grown commercially primarily in the southern part of the state, specially around Alma. Some blueberries, however are successfully grown in the north Georgia mountains.
Fresh Georgia peaches are available only 12 weeks each year, from mid-May to early August. In Georgia, there are two commercial growing regions. The central region of Georgia is the largest with about 70% of the peach trees and 83% of the state’s production. The Southern region of Georgia has about 23% of the trees and produces 17% of the state’s harvest. Interestingly, the state’s official fruit is actually grown by a relatively small number of growers who each manage a very large number of trees.
The season to harvest fresh Georgia carrots is December through June. Georgia carrots are grown commercially in the Southern portion of the state.
Watermelons’s are Georgia’s number one produce crop with over 40,000 acres in production. Georgia actually has the perfect climate to produce a consistent crop with good yields and sweet melons. Most watermelons are grown primarily in and around Crisp county near the city of Cordele. Georgia cantaloupe is available from May through October. Cantaloupe is grown primarily in the Southern and South-central parts of the state.
Georgia growers have varieties of both summer and winter squash, and commercial production of all varieties is concentrated in South Georgia. Georgia winter squash is available from late August through March, while Georgia summer squash is harvested almost year-round, with peak availability during the late spring each year. Georgia has a long growing season for cucumbers as well. Fresh Georgia cucumbers are available for six months each year, from May through November. Georgia cucumbers are grown primarily in the Southern portion of the state.
Sweet corn is a warm-weather crop, well suited for Georgia’s climate. Corn is grown in every county in Georgia, making it the most widely grown crop in the state. Georgia corn is available all summer long, from May through mid-September.
Vidalia© Onions are Georgia’s state vegetable. They were first grown more than 60 years ago in Toombs County, Georgia by Mose Coleman. Coleman was surprised to find that the onions he planted tasted sweet, not hot. When Coleman’s sweet onions garnered a high price, other area farmers began planting onions. Tourists who bought sweet onions at the Vidalia© Farmers’ Market coined the name “Vidalia© Onion”. By the mid-1970s, there were more than 600 total acres of Vidalia© onions. They are harvested from late-April to mid-June.
Bell peppers in Georgia are available from mid-June through October. Commercial production is centered primarily in the Southwest region of Georgia. Green, yellow, and red bell peppers are widely available. Green peppers are harvested before they reach maturity and eventually turn bright red if left on the vine. Yellow peppers are a different variety that are harvested when mature. Georgia also grows other varieties of peppers.
In the U.S., most snap beans are grown east of the Mississippi River. Snap beans thrive in warm climates with bright sunshine, like Georgia’s. Snap beans are grown primarily in the central and southern parts of the state. In Georgia, snap beans are harvested from May through June and mid-September through mid-November.
In Georgia, cabbage is grown primarily in the South central region and the Northeast corner of the state. Turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens and kale provide the majority of greens grown in Georgia. Georgia greens are available virtually year-round, with the greatest availability from late December through March.
Apples and grapes are primarily grown in north Georgia and provide valuable agritourism opportunities to growers in these areas. Grapes are used to make Georgia wines and apples are used for a wide variety of purposes.
The fruit and vegetable industry in unique because of its diversity both in the areas these crops can be grown and the time in which they can be planted and harvested.