Evaluation of 12 Yellow Flesh Peach Cultivars for Organic Production in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2011: $14,536.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Jim Travis
Fruit Farmer

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: peaches, general tree fruits
  • Additional Plants: native plants


  • Crop Production: windbreaks
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity, habitat enhancement, hedgerows, wildlife, hedges - woody
  • Pest Management: biological control, biorational pesticides, botanical pesticides, chemical control, cultural control, disease vectors, eradication, flame, genetic resistance, integrated pest management, mating disruption, physical control, prevention, trap crops, weather monitoring, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    Selected yellow flesh peach cultivars will be evaluated for their suitability for organic production in the Northeastern U.S. The cultivars were selected based on their susceptibility to bacterial spot, brown rot, tree vigor, and fruit firmness. Orchard observations will confirm or refute these characteristics and further refine each cultivar’s suitability for organic production. Additionally, tree nutrition, pest and beneficial insects and tree training as it affects tree and fruit exposure to sunlight and air circulation will be managed utilizing organically accepted practices to optimize the successful production of organic peaches. Outreach for the information obtained from this project will occur through extension newsletter articles, personnel communication and a final project summary including project goals, methods and a summary and analysis of the results will be prepared for distribution to interested growers through extension. Two diseases, one bacterial (Bacterial Spot) and one fungal (Brown Rot) limit the organic production of peaches in the Northeastern United States. These two diseases are managed with great difficulty in non-organic orchards utilizing pesticides not available to the organic producer. Primarily because of these two diseases, there are few success stories for the organic production of peaches in the Northeastern U.S. A significant market opportunity is lost for the organic apple grower who cannot also offer organic peaches to the consumer or to other organic producers who may wish to expand into organic peach production. Insect pests of peaches on the other hand can be managed utilizing the same organically based methods that have been successfully utilized for apple insect pests. Rather than proposing a project only focused on observing and counting the number of disease lesions and insect stings on fruit to determine fruit quality for the selected cultivars this project takes a broader approach understanding that ultimately disease and insect management is a result of individual disease and pest organisms, host responses based on the hosts health as supported or undermined by nutrition, training system and the environment both physical and biological. This proposal will observe and measure several contributing areas that will determine if the selected peach cultivars can be grown organically in Adams County PA specifically with application for the Northeastern United States.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Orchard Preparation began in 2010 for organic production on a virgin agricultural site with good elevation and a south facing exposure. Selected yellow flesh peach cultivars (12) were selected for their suitability for organic production in the Northeastern U.S. The cultivars were selected based on their susceptibility to bacterial spot, brown rot, tree vigor, and fruit firmness. An eight foot high woven wire fence supported by non-treated oak posts was put in place two weeks before planting the trees to prevent deer damage and to allow the deer to travel around the 3 acre fenced-off area.

    The peach cultivars were planted 5 feet in the row with 19 feet between rows at about 400 trees per acre. Redhaven and John Boy are industry standards and will serve as controls for pest management, production and quality under organic management.

    The peach trees will be grown using a ‘Perpendicular V’ training system to maximize light and air exposure with the goal of producing a high percentage of quality fruit. The training was begun two weeks after planting when 2 side shoots were selected that were oriented perpendicular to the row , at about a 50 degree angle. Individual trees were fertilized with 10 lbs of compost in June 2010 based on previously taken soil nutrient analysis. Preliminary tree training and nutrient management advice was provided by Dr. Robert Crassweller, Penn State University Extension Pomologist after site visits in July and August 2010. Weed management consisted of hand-pulling and one application of Green Match herbicide which is approved for organic production. Management practices and organic pest control will be utilized to minimize fruit damage and loss. Disease management began with selecting low to moderate susceptible peach cultivars to bacterial disease. Cultivars where also selected for fruit firmness to inhibit brown rot and good tree vigor to promote healthy growth under organic management practices. Many of the insect problems on peach are the same as the insects that cause damage to apples. Pest management recommendations produced by the Penn State University Fruit Research and Extension Center located about 15 miles from our farm will be followed for the orchard. Beneficial insects are an important component of organically based insect management programs. An annual wildflower planting was established in the fall of 2010 with several native wildflowers to promote an abundant source of beneficial insects in the area of the peach orchard.

    Additionally, native perennial plants that serve as a pollen and nectar source for beneficial insects will be established as a hedgerow next to the orchard in cooperation with USDA NRCS who will provide funds to purchase the plants and advice on the best native plants to meet our orchard goals for establishment in 2011. The perennials in the hedgerow will also serve as a source of non-fruit pest insects that will support a population of beneficial insects that will be available to move onto the peach orchard when pest populations develop. A beneficial insect example is the Syrphid fly whose larvae feed on aphids whether on native host plants or peach orchards. The adults are good fliers that can readily move between the hedgerow and the peach orchard.

    Organic Peach Orchard:2011-2013 The peach cultivar trial orchard will be observed over a two year period to evaluate the peach cultivars as they mature to full production from second leaf to third leaf. In March and April 2011, Dr. Rob Crassweller will provide on-site instruction on tree pruning for the ‘V’ training system. At the same time 2 tree plots replicated 5 times (10 trees total/cultivar) will be selected for each cultivar for observation and data collection throughout the course of the project.

    The trees will be observed for;
    1. Overall tree health and vigor which will begin with winter survival and bud break percentage. In addition, the suitability of each cultivar for the ‘Perpendicular -V’ training system with data collected on limb breakage, fruitfulness, yield and fruit quality following standardize protocols for each category.
    2. Nutrient management will be measured through growth observation, soil nutrient analysis, and leaf petiole analysis.
    3. Disease susceptibility under organic management with emphasis on bacterial spot and brown rot but will also include powdery mildew and peach canker (Leucostoma canker).
    4. Insect infestation and fruit damage will be observed and recorded after organic management practices are followed. Additionally, beneficial insects will be scouted and counted in the orchard and encouraged and counted in wildflower beds and in a hedgerow planting.
    5. Since the orchard has been planted to high density which will offer early fruit production, both leaf and fruit quality measurements will be made beginning at the second leaf(2011)and continue for an additional year as the tree fruitfulness and planting environment mature in 2012 (third leaf).

    Orchard weather conditions will be recorded using a Davis Vantage Pro-2 on-site weather station located next to the peach orchard. The station will record hourly temperature, humidity, leaf wetness, wind speed and direction and rainfall amount and intensity. A data monitor is located in the farm office to receive frequent input from the orchard weather monitor. The data is electronically downloaded for recording and data summary and analysis.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.