Record harvests leave peach growers quarreling over etiquette
Palisade Police Chief Carroll Quarles was weary of receiving angry phone calls claiming some peach growers were undercutting the value of peaches by selling the sweet fruit at markedly lower costs.
Some peach growers in the orchard-rimmed town were upset about one grower charging $15 for a box of peaches, a price that is less than half of the amount at other roadside retail markets. Just the thought that a grower would advertise prices on large signs to motorists broke an unspoken rule among area peach sellers. Growers called city officials, asking if anything could be done.
“They want us to help them do price fixing on peaches,” Quarles said. “They want us to regulate how those peaches can be sold in town. It’s a real political hot potato. We just want everyone to have a piece of the pie.”
Pieces of that pie were smaller this year for some growers. Palisade, the agriculturally rich town in the shadow of Grand Mesa, has cornered the peach market by producing the state’s most abundant fruit.
Unfortunately, a chilly spring left farmers with shortages in August, but created a flood of fruit in early September. Also, a record-number of sweltering summer days created a bountiful harvest, leaving some farmers with more perishable peaches than they could sell.
So, when wholesale peach seller John Cox decided to sell his overstock of 100 pallets of peaches at discount retail prices out of large refrigerated trucks at busy intersections in Palisade and Grand Junction, some growers protested.
“It kind of hurt the industry,” said Renee Herman of Herman Produce. “You don’t just wave signs.”
The Hermans’ colorful fruit stands are a fixture in Palisade, catering largely to drivers who pop off Interstate 70 in search of fresh produce.
Quarles said he twice broke up confrontations this summer when the Hermans approached the Coxes about their prices as they sold discounted peaches up the road from the Hermans’ stands.
Mayor Dave Walker said he reviewed the city’s ordinances, and anyone can sell peaches with a peddler’s license on private land, charging whatever price they please. The Coxes were acting within the law, he said, and passing stricter ordinances inside city limits would put the kibosh on small pleasures of rural life, such as residents having garage sales and kids selling lemonade on street corners.
“From my perspective, if other fruit stands have an issue, I’d like to see them work it out,” Walker said.
“It’s free enterprise, and competition is always a good thing.”
Owner and operator Thelma Hays of Mount Garfield Fruits & Vegetables on busy F Road said it’s common courtesy among fruit stand owners not to advertise the price of peaches from a sign that can been seen from the road, thereby creating an incentive for drivers to stop and look around.
But anything goes with pricing, said Hays, whose peach prices ranged from $5 to $37 for a box, depending on the quality.
“Farming’s a big gamble,” she said. “When you work with produce, it’s a big high. You get it, and it’s got to go. You only have so many days to move it.”
Cox, owner of Rocky Mountain Peach Company, who grows the fruit on 150 acres, said selling peaches people can afford will create return customers for the whole industry.
By offering the peaches at $15 a box and flats, or a half box for $10, he was able to sell his overstock in about four days. That’s a break from his wholesale prices of $17 a box.
“If you train people that peaches are never reasonably priced, they won’t come and look,” he said. “If people get good peaches at a good price, they might be willing to come back. Honestly, I feel our industry will benefit from a little competition.”