Peach [Prunus persica (L.) Batsch] production is economically important throughout much of the United States. Globally, the United States ranks third behind, China, and the European Union in total production (Brunke and Chang, 2012). In 2012, U.S. peach production was 978,260 t with 490,320 t sold as fresh and 475,100 t as processed (NASS, 2013). Peaches are produced commercially in 28 states with the most production in California, South Carolina, Georgia, and New Jersey (Brunke and Chang, 2012). Peaches for the fresh market are primarily produced in California, South Carolina, and Georgia, whereas 96% of peaches for processing are produced in California (Brunke and Chang, 2012). In 2008, per-capita peach consumption was 8.8 lbs, of which 5.1 lbs were fresh, 3.0 lbs canned, and 0.7 lbs frozen (ERS USDA, 2013).
Producers are challenged by increasing input costs to control invasive pests and diseases, meet regulatory demands, and especially for labor. Market intermediaries must deal with erratic supply, inconsistent quality, and fruit handling problems (Brunke and Chang, 2012). Consumers of fresh peaches are often frustrated with inconsistent flavor and textural quality, flesh browning, and insipid taste (Brunke and Chang, 2012). To enhance the efficiency of peach breeding programs developing scion cultivars to address the aforementioned supply chain challenges, a USDA-funded project called RosBREED has focused on enabling the use of marker-assisted breeding (MAB) in peaches and other rosaceous crops (Dirlewanger et al., 2004; Evans et al., 2012; Iezzoni et al., 2010). Implementing MAB requires substantial genetic knowledge, trained personnel, and financial resources, which underscore the importance of applying MAB to traits with the most favorable cost:benefit ratio across the supply chain for various rosaceous crops (Alpuerto et al., 2009; Luby and Shaw, 2001). This socioeconomic aspect was a fundamental component of RosBREED and this study of fresh and processed peaches sought to identify the most important traits for peach producers. This information will serve to compare priorities and needs from producers, market intermediaries (e.g., shippers, packers, and marketers), and consumers. It will also help identify the overall most important peach quality traits for MAB.
Selection of a scion cultivar in high-value specialty crops, especially perennials, is a crucial decision as a result of the high capital requirements for establishment and the delayed returns until a planting reaches full production. A producer must carefully consider the traits of a cultivar related to productivity and market acceptance. Ideally, a new peach orchard uses a scion cultivar with relatively high productivity and desirable characteristics through the supply chain (Florkowski et al., 2003; Jordan et al., 1986; Park and Florkowski, 2003). Important traits like freedom from defects, skin color, sugar level, and fruit size determine fresh peach prices (Jordan et al., 1986; Parker et al., 1991). Other traits like taste, texture, and pit characteristics also contribute to grower adoption of a cultivar (Park and Florkowski, 2003). The absence of decay and bruising are external traits important to producers and retailers (Park and Florkowski, 2003). However, the importance of different quality traits to supply chain members varies depending on the market channel for their products (Florkowski et al., 2003). For instance, if a producer is selling to a commercial packer, the packer values external traits because the peach will be resold making aesthetic traits important. In contrast, a retail consumer values taste making internal traits more important (Florkowski et al., 2003). Often, late-maturing peaches are selected by producers selling directly to retail outlets because late harvest maturity extends the harvest season, which can increase profits by filling a low-volume market window (Florkowski et al., 2003). Producers’ decisions regarding the importance of peach fruit and tree traits are complex, making the quantification of the importance of these traits challenging.
Although this article focuses on peach producers’ preferences for fruit quality traits for a successful new cultivar, traits important to consumers ultimately drive demand. In addition, most literature on preferences for peach quality traits is focused on consumers. Bruhn (1995) and Wolf et al. (2003) concluded that key peach traits were sweetness, attractiveness, firmness, ripeness, color, and aroma. Similarly, Predieri et al. (2005) showed that acidity, astringency, and sweetness resulted in greater consumer appreciation of a peach cultivar. Crisosto et al. (2003) found that soluble solids concentration and titratable acidity in ripe fruit impact consumers’ preferences for cultivars, although the extent varies by cultivar. Overall, past studies demonstrate that peach quality traits impact consumers’ preferences.
The objective of this study is to assess the importance of peach fruit quality and tree traits to U.S. fresh and processed peach producers. This information has potential to assist breeders and supply chain groups in determining key fruit and tree traits to target when breeding, producing, and commercializing new peach cultivars. In addition we assess whether producers’ perceptions of fruit quality traits are consonant with consumers’ preferences.
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