Posted June 2, 2017
Lee Dickey knows peaches. His family-owned Dickey Farms is the oldest continuously operating peach packinghouse in Georgia, a state synonymous with the fleshy fruit. Dickey knows soil and farming techniques. He knows heavy equipment and fertilizers. And he knows that energy is his essential partner in modern, efficient peach growing.
The peach has been part of Georgia’s identity since long before Scarlett O’Hara moved to the quiet end of Peachtree Street in Atlanta. And while Georgia isn’t alone in its association with an iconic homegrown produce – think Massachusetts cranberries, Idaho potatoes and Florida citrus – no other state has more fully intertwined its agricultural standard-bearer with its profile, from license plates and its representative on the state-themed quarter coins to upwards of 70 variations of the name Peachtree for streets in the Atlanta area alone.
Peaches do grow on trees – but the process takes a lot of energy. Dickey is the fifth generation of his family to farm Georgia peaches. He said his family’s 1,000 acres of rich, southern earth produce about 4.5 million pounds of peaches a year, and that’s largely due to energy, which is the activating force in so many aspects of modern living, from agriculture to frontier space technologies.
“Energy plays a vital role in agriculture and everything we do. We need diesel fuel to run our tractors in the fields and to run the trucks hauling peaches; gasoline to run pickups, vans and most transportation; and propane for forklifts and other vehicles.”
But Dickey Farms is just one slice of the (peach) pie, as across Georgia there are around 12,000 acres of orchards producing more than 40,000 tons of the fruit each year. This harvest returns millions of dollars to the state economy.
The energy needed for turning pits into peaches starts long before they are loaded into trucks and shipped to grocery stores across the country. In fact, in addition to using fuel-powered farm equipment to plant trees, just preparing the soil to ensure a producing orchard takes a good deal of energy.
For some 8,000 years, farmers have used fertilizer to improve their crops. Today, nitrogen fertilizers, which typically use natural gas in their manufacture, have proven to greatly improve tree survival and fruit yield. But a healthy and fertilized soil is only part of cultivation and growing. Peach trees need water to flourish, and in dry months Mother Nature sometimes needs a hand in ensuring success. So at Dickey Farms, and others across the state, that means using fuel-powered irrigation pumps to ensure the peaches get the water they need to grow fat and juicy.
Since Lee Dickey’s great-great-grandfather, Robert L. “Mr. Bob” Dickey, first built his peach packinghouse in 1936, energy has been key for getting the family’s peaches across the country. It is needed at every step, from the power running the automated packing machinery – and in Georgia about 40 percent of electricity comes from natural gas – to diesel for trucking the fruit, to grocery stores as far west as St. Louis and north to Canada.
So as summer’s bounty brings its annual abundance of peaches to your local grocery store – perfect for pies, cobblers or merely eating whole – remember it took more than dropping a pit in the ground to grow the tree and bring the fruit into our homes. It took energy at every step along the way.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.