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Dixie Belle Peaches investing in new technology in 2018

Less than two months away from picking his first ripe peach, Jimmy Forrest, president of Dixie Belle Peaches Inc., is full of optimism for the South Carolina peach season. Predicted to start slightly ahead of a typical season, last week’s cold mornings did a nice thinning job and this week Dixie Belle’s early varieties are already past the bloom stage and the later varieties are currently in full bloom.dixi

“I’m very optimistic about this year,” he said. “We are on-go and we are looking for a nice crop of peaches.”

In addition to his enthusiasm for the upcoming peach crop, Forrest is equally excited to put a new piece of packinghouse equipment into action. This year, Dixie Belle has partnered with Aweta, a Netherlands-based global technology leader, and added a $500,000, state-of-the-art sorter/scanner to its packing operation. The new sorter will enhance the peach packing process by detecting internal damage [bad seed] in peaches, as well as softs — external defects. Forrest noted the industry has had a need to detect internal damage in peaches and Aweta has come through with the solution.

Forrest added that his company recognizes that customers have high expectations, so it is important to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

“We’ll be one of two peach growers east of the Mississippi with this technology,” Forrest said. “Now, this camera will take a picture of the inside of the peach, sort of like an MRI in the medical field. The sensor measures internal characteristics such as maturity, sugar content and physiological defects.”

“We recognize the growing demand for higher internal and external quality and this is the driving factor in our decision to purchase this scanner,” Forrest explained. “We feel this internal quality analysis will be appreciated in the market and reward the works.”

This is not the first time Dixie Belle has made improvements to its operation. During the past few years, Forrest has also invested in a multi-million-dollar expansion; establishing new orchards with the latest peach varieties and more renovations to the packing facility. The company has also installed computerized sizers and hi-tech, fruit-friendly machinery allowing Dixie Belle to package fruit any way a customer requests, including volume-filled boxes, trays, clam shells and gift packs.

“We also put in more than $1 million in cold storage and hydro-coolers in 2016,” Forrest said. “As we grow, and we are picking more than 25,000 pounds of peaches a day, our packinghouse infrastructure has to also grow and match our packing needs.”

“Dixie Belle is a fourth-generation peach farm in South Carolina, and the fourth largest peach grower in the United States,” Forrest said. “We have about 3,000 acres that produce beautiful fruit. We are very proud of our peaches and our ability to match our customers’ needs.”
The Ridge Spring, SC-based company boasts more than thirty varieties of peaches, shipping them throughout the United States and Canada.

So far this year the weather in the South Carolina region has been much more cooperative than this time last year, and Dixie Belle is on target for a normal sized crop.

“The extreme cold temps and almost total crop ruin we saw in 2017 was the first time that has happened in my lifetime,” Forrest said. “Just the year before, in 2016, we had a full crop and packed about a half million boxes.”

This year things are expected to be back to normal for the South Carolina peach crop. Jimmy Forrest is looking forward to a good season and putting his new technology to good use.