If it seems like Fredericksburg peaches just aren’t what they used to be, that’s probably because there just aren’t as many as there used to be.
This part of the Hill Country, which includes Fredericksburg and Stonewall, has been known for its peaches for several generations, but in the past decade, drought, late freezes and, most recently, hail, have reduced the number of acres that farmers are growing, as well as the amount harvested from the trees.
On today’s front page, Statesman reporter Esther Robards-Forbes explains how farmers are coping with yet another disappointing crop, one that like so many others in the past decade comes up far short from farmers’ (and consumers’) expectations. The average number of bushels per acre in Gillespie County has dropped from 200 "in good years" to 71 bushels per acre now, but you’ll find that even farmers like Ricky Priess, owner of Gold Orchards in Stonewall, who have lost all but just a few bushels of peaches, will find something positive to focus on.
Priess remains optimistic. The orchard’s roadside stand is stocked with peach preserves, jarred peaches and peach ice cream made from last year’s crop. No crop this year means the trees can rest up for next season, he said.
Even as wine tourism to the area has increased, many people still flock to the Hill Country in search of a taste of the peaches they remember from their childhood (or from a roadside farmstand in Austin), and the farmers that I’ve talked to over the years about the declining crop are acutely aware that every time they explain just how many peaches they have lost, they risk losing the income from visitors who start making the trek west this time of year.
The good news for Austin peach lovers is that Gillespie County isn’t the only source of local peaches — I was at the 10th anniversary of the Sustainable Food Center’s farmers market downtown on Saturday, where at least one vendor was selling baskets of peaches — but it’s hard to watch any farmers fight a losing battle with a force they cannot control.