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Keen on Peaches

Another juicy fruit has begun to grow in Florida groves. Long known as a product of California and Georgia farms, the peach may have a future in the Sunshine State.

Lake Wales farmer Greg Waters certainly thinks so. In the spring of 2010 he planted 25 of his 40 acres with two varieties of peaches that were specifically developed by the University of Florida for sub-tropical climates. The varieties are referred to as low-chill, since the trees need less time under 45˚ F than do peaches grown in states to the north.

“The peach thing has become very big down here,” says Waters, who then corrects himself, saying, “or it will be big.

While Waters is new to peaches and his trees are still a few years away from maturity—surprising even to him, they produced fruit the first year—he grew up working in his family’s citrus orchard near Frostproof, just 15 minutes away from his current farm. Since graduating college with a business degree, he’s worked as a controller for a sizable landscaping and irrigation company, and has pursued his passion for flying helicopters.

To help pay for what he refers to as an “expensive hobby,” he’s provided rides to paying passengers from a dude ranch and flown frost patrol, which entails buzzing low and slow over citrus orchards in the winter to keep the fruit from freezing. He still does the latter, but says, “It’s hard. It’s dangerous. It’s dark. It’s not fun.”

Until mid-2010 he also flew for Progress Energy-Florida, a large utility company, piloting his helicopter as company personnel inspected power lines and the rights-of-way that surround them. “I did that for 6 1/2 years and was flying a lot. But I got to talking to my wife one night, and I said, ‘You know, there’s no security in these contracts, because we’re dealing with huge companies. We better do something to subsidize our income in case something happens.’”

The fallback was planting peaches on property the Waters family had previously purchased. It was fortuitous. The contract did eventually get canceled, and even though Waters’ helicopter company is still his main source of income, the orchard has now taken on a greater role.

Waters explains he felt safe going with the relatively unproven peaches, in part due to his experience with citrus. Yet, he quickly discovered that peach trees need a lot of TLC. For instance, because they grow so fast, he has to prune them back twice a year. “What was to be a side thing, has become an animal,” he says. “I mean, it’s a lot of work. Fortunately, I’m able to do 90% of it myself, because I have the background.”

He also has the right equipment. Waters grew up with Massey Ferguson tractors on his family’s orange grove. “We’ve never had anything but Massey Ferguson,” says Waters, who still runs one of his dad’s nearly 50-year-old MF165 tractors.

That loyalty, however, hasn’t kept him from looking around. “I’m still a businessman; I shop around,” he says. Yet, when it was time to buy a new tractor a couple of years ago, Waters decided on the MF1660. “It turns on a dime. That allows me to maneuver around the ends of these peaches without tearing up the trees … and it’s got the horsepower you need when you need it.”

Read the full story at at http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/keen-on-peaches/.