“Derby Says Limit Peach Production” from the Nov. 7, 1924 issue of The Pilot, Vass, N.C.
Thinks Crop Should Be Held Down to What Market Takes Freely
I have just returned and read the article in the Sept. 5th issue of The Pilot entitled “Is the Orchard Overdone?” in which you take issue with me on the question of production of peaches.
There are several points that I would like to clear up in this connection and as I believe the whole matter deserves the widest possible discussion in the local press I am very glad to write this open letter to you which I hope you will see fit to publish. I want to discuss the matter in perfect good humor on account of you and the pleasant relations I have always had with you so that any little pleasantries that I pass out should be taken in good part. We once argued in the public press the question of whether or not you deserved to hung without a lynching taking place and as you escaped the gallows I expect my idea of a proper punishment for you was wrong. While we are discussing personalities I might say that in my opinion your vision and enthusiasm are and have been very valuable assets to this community and I am very glad that you were NOT hung. However it is possible for even a prophet and the Sage of the Sandhills to be sometimes wrong and when he is I want to assist in setting him right.
It seems to me that the responsibility of the press is a very great one and that when a writer undertakes to advise such a community as this on a fundamental economic policy he should be very sure of his facts. This is especially true when one is dealing with farmers, for as a class they have less cohesion than any other class in our civilization and the development of public opinion among them is an extremely difficult matter. Therefore I want to get down to the fats in this matter of production of peaches and stick to them, leaving generalities and sweeping prophesies as to the future alone.
In the first place you start your article by misquoting me. I never have made the assertion that the Sandhills are producing too many peaches. What I have said is that the South was producing too many peaches and that the present acreage planted in this district will produce all we can hope to market at a profit and that this acreage should not be increased. I took this position two years ago and still maintain it and I believe that the experience of last summer has proved my position to be correct. Of course it is not a popular stand to take. Being a Cassandra never went down very well in America but that happens to make no difference to me whatever. I would a good deal rather be right than insincere.
You go on in your article to say that the trouble is not with overproduction but with an imperfect system of marketing and you lead your reads to believe that in some way the community can improve this so that 50,000 cars of peaches can be sold as easily as we used to sell our 300 or 400 carloads. You compare our problem to the marketing of beef which you say is an equally perishable product as peaches.
This comparison seems to me to be unworthy of your intelligence and indicates that you are guessing about the question and not boring down after the cold hard facts. Beef is really not a particularly perishable product. It can be frozen and kept in cold storage indefinitely. It can be and is slaughtered whenever the occasion demands. If we could leave our peaches on the trees for twelve months and pick them when the market demanded them or pick them and store them under low temperatures for an indefinite period, then I would agree that our problem would be much simplified and would approach a comparison with the beef industry.
Moreover beef is a necessity in the diet of the nation that really has no substitute. Meat has a stimulating effect that most people believe is the source of energy and endurance of our very vigorous people. But for peaches there are dozens of substitutes, both fresh and preserved that can answer the same purpose equally as well. It is well known that cantaloupes are serious competitors of peaches and in this connection it might be well to point out that we peach growers were very fortunate during the market gluts of the past season in that the cantaloupe crop was short and poor. Otherwise we would have had an even more disastrous experience than we had.
You also lead your readers to believe that one solution of our problem would be to can our product. This is a very common illusion among people who really don’t know anything about the peach business. Our fresh fruit varieties such as Belle, Hiley and Elbertas are not suitable for canning. This is a well known fact which I am surprised that more people do not recognize. These varieties do not hold their shapes when put up n cans but break own into a frayed, mushy mass that is not acceptable to the public. I grant you that the flavor, when properly prepared, is superior to the ordinary hard meaty California canning peach but unfortunately the public will not accept them.
California when through this same experience years ago with the same varieties that we are growing here and finally developed a special peach for drying and canning. You wonder why we should not do the same. Well, that is worth looking into but first we should determine whether we can enter this special line of agriculture with any hope of success. Raising canning peaches is a very different matter than raising fresh fruit. Colour, which is an essential for fresh fruit is of no consequence in canned fruit. The important considerations are the size of the individual specimens and the yield per tree. In California in the peach canning districts they get a very much larger yield per tree than we do here on account of the stronger land, and, in my opinion this is the stumbling block that would prevent our hoping to compete with California in this line. At all events it would take years of experimentation and a great deal of special knowledge and investigation before we could enter the canning peach industry. I object to your sweeping and off hand assertion that to can our peaches is a solution of our difficulties.
Now as to marketing. You again make a sweeping assertion to the effect that we should do something to improve it so that more peaches can be sold at a profit and one would infer form what you say, that our present methods are very inefficient. In this I totally disagree.
It is utterly impossible for a district that has a product to market over a period of only three weeks in a year to build up an organization of its own to handle the business. This has been tried time and again by various districts and has always proved a failure. Our own experience in this line should have taught us the lesson in conclusive fashion. For such a district as ours the only solution is to employ a marketing organization that is constantly in the field and that has the connections and trained personnel to handle the job efficiently. This was done last year by the American Growers and the Federated Growers and done as well as it could be done. Contrary to what you would have your readers believe they put our product everywhere. Of course there were many people that did not get Sandhill peaches 1,500 carloads will not supply the whole country, but the consuming public had plenty of peaches during our shipping season as anyone could ascertain by simply looking at the fruit stands and push carts in the big centers of the country.
This is a well established fact that is recognized by everybody.
One would also infer from your article that something was wrong with the country’s system of getting fruit into the hands of the public after it reaches the big centers. If you walk down any if the busy streets of any good-sized American town the thing that impresses you is the multitude of fruit stands, for the most part run by Italians. You wonder how they all manage to make a living at it. This summer in Portland, Maine, I had fruit thrust at me on every corner. I don’t believe than any middleman is in closer touch with the consuming public than is the Italian fruit vendor. He sets up a stand in any nook or corner available, he puts his wares out in the open close to the passerby and he is always in attendance in his white coat urging the public to buy. Or he pushes his long cart through the crowded streets taking his wares to the very doorstep of the purchaser. In fact I don’t believe that any product has a more complete distributing system than fruit has in this country or more efficient and enterprising salesmen to dispose of it.
In seasons like the past one generally hears a wail raised by the growers against the middlemen and the railroads. These are easy people to blame for all the troubles of the business but I cannot see quite how the responsibility for raising more stuff than can be consumed is to be fixed on them. The middleman is vital to the success of the perishable fruit grower. Without him to take a share of the risk and to unload the stuff on the public we would be in a sorry plight indeed. Nor is the business all beer and skittles for him. The large number of failures in this line is proof enough that his end is quite risky, if not more risky, than the growers’ end.
LaFollette and his crew of radicals blame the railroads and Wall Street for the condition of the wheat market and the hard times of the Western farmer when every thinking man knows that what ails the wheat farmer is too much wheat and nothing much else.
We have never experienced an agricultural crisis in this country that was not directly caused by overproduction. The corn famine in Kansas in the nineties was due to an overproduction of corn. Then the farmers burnt their cornstalks for fuel as they were cheaper than wood or coal. The opening up of our fertile West during and after the Civil War virtually prostrated agriculture in the East and for that matter in Europe as well. Why? Simply because those rich lands yielded more and at less expense than the worn out soils of an older civilization and because the free homesteads upon which the settler had no interest on the investment to pay and no mortgage to clear was a more profitable investment than the capitalized farms of an older civilization.
The potentiality of this great country from the point of view of the production of all kinds of crops is still enormous. If it were all farmed intensively agriculture would be ruined. Make no mistake about that. Our government has fostered agriculture by encouraging the farmer to produce more and more, to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before, regardless of whether the second blade could be sold at a profit or sold at all. By giving away the homesteads to settle the West, by numerous reclamation projects, by teaching and preaching better and cheaper methods of production our government has assisted mightily in developing the greatest country on earth but it is only natural that such a program should bring its periods of suffering for the producing classes.
I am not blaming or criticizing the policy of the government in this. I am merely stating that I believe to be facts and attempting to point out the dangers that a community like ours may run into. Only by knowing the truth about the past can we safeguard the future.
The question, as I see it, is whether we in this section should not take stock and the possibility of marketing what we will produce on the present acreage planted and plan our future as intelligently as any large business concern plans its future.
No manufacturing concern goes ahead with a program of production without consulting its sales department to find out how much can be sold. Yet the peach grower goes blindly ahead planting trees without the dimmest idea of where or how his product is to be marketed four or five years later. True, you cannot control this by legislation or by any other direct method, but if the press has the welfare of the section it serves really at heart and is honest and candid and not serving the ends of real estate speculators or railroads that are pursuing a policy of too rapid development, it can present the facts to the public and the public can judge for itself.
Let us profit by the experience of the Georgia peach growers and the Washington and Oregon apple growers and the Florida citrus growers and the California lemon growers before it is too late and we smash half the banks in the district and send a lot of disgruntled settlers back to the North with empty pockets and a cordial feeling of dislike for our beautiful section.
If you will consult the United States Bureau of Markets in the Department of Agriculture in Washington, they will tell you all the facts in the matter and support them with figures that are conclusive. I have discussed the whole question with them from A to Izzard and I haven’t found a man in the Bureau who is anything but a pessimist about the immediate future of the peach situation in the South or the citrus industry. Last week in Washington I was told by one of the men high up in the Bureau that in his opinion not more than 60 percent of a normal apple crop could be marketed at profitable prices in this country today. He supports this assertion by pointing to the present crop which is going at profitable prices and which is only 60 percent of a normal crop.
The unfortunate thing is that the very accurate information that these men have in Washington cannot be presented to the farmers officially because of the political pressure that would immediately brought on the Department by real estate operators and the railroads if anything were said that might tend to discourage additional planting or break a real estate boom.
The blight of any fruit district is the man who wants to sell land rather than enter seriously into the production of fruit. We have such people here and if they were given enough rein they would land this district on the rocks as sure as shooting. How much harm have they actually done us remains to be seen.
It is a pity that the U.S. Bureau of Markets cannot be invited by the fruit producing districts of the South to make a survey of present planting and production and report on the condition and probable future of the industry. Such information would be accepted by the public as disinterested whereas if an individual or group of individuals attempt to supply such information the public assumes that they have some special end to serve.
How you can blink the fact that Georgia filed to market between four and six thousand carloads of peaches this past season and actually left them to rot in the orchards because the prices at the terminal markets would not pay the freight and contend that there was no overproduction of peaches is beyond me. Everybody that has looked into the situation recognizes the truth. The Georgia and South Carolina Peach Exchanges recognize it so well that they have issued statements in the public press to the effect that there is an overproduction and are urging a moratorium on planting so that no additional fruit shall come in before 1932.
You are kind enough to state that I am no coward. I trust that I am not but when I consider the situation before us in the peach business I feel like one. Frankly I would get out if I could. Not being able to do so however, I shall do what I can to see the proposition through, taking care of my own interests first of all and helping others where and when I can. At present I believe the biggest assistance I can be to others is to present the facts about the industry as I see them. I felt this two years ago when I hired space in the local press together with others who felt as I did and advised against an extension of the industry here. You may not believe it, but I did not take this action with the idea that it would assist me in getting votes in case I decided to run for Congress or to be elected dog catcher.
I am neither so stupid or so selfish as to want to be only one of a handful of people who have the peach market to themselves. Under such conditions it would be extremely difficult to succeed. We are all benefited by each others’ experience in this business and unless we have trained labour at our command we cannot operate as efficiently as we should. There is a great advantage in operating in a district composed of intelligent and efficient growers who set a high standard of quality for their fruit.
Two other misstatements you made were that the car of peaches I shipped to England made a hit and that I come of a family that used to catch whales. The car we shipped to England sold very slowly and the fruit was not appreciated by the public. The net return was not sufficient to warrant the enormous risk taken in shipping across the water and I doubt if I ever try it again. As for the whales, my ancestors never caught any that I am aware of. They were East India traders up till the war of 1812 when they had the good sense to get out of the shipping business. So far as I know I am the only Jonah that my family has produced.
With kindest regards, Sincerely yours, Roger A. Derby, October 25th, 1924