SAVANNAH, GA – At this year’s Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference, the Southeast’s fruit and vegetable industry honored a peach industry titan for changing how Georgia peaches are marketed.
During a Jan. 13 awards breakfast, the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association and the Georgia Peach Council named Will “Big Peaches” McGehee, partner with the Fort Valley, GA-based Genuine Georgia Group, as winner of its yearly Mr. Peach award.
McGehee, a fifth generation peach grower-shipper, has been a transformative individual in the industry, says Lawton Pearson, owner of Pearson Farm in Fort Valley. McGehee, whose family began growing peaches in 1885, figured how to best sell peaches in today’s price-driven marketplace, says Pearson.
“He (McGehee) has made a huge impact on our industry,” says Pearson. “He and his partners have changed how we market peaches. This man eats and sleeps peaches. Under his watch, the Georgia peach industry has experienced a renaissance. His passion is unrivaled by anyone in the industry.”
A Wake Forest University business marketing major, McGehee applied the experience he gained working in the wine industry for a decade to marketing peaches when he returned to his family’s farm in 2008. The effort paid off and Georgia peach growers are receiving more money for their peaches, he says.
In the past, the industry let the market dictate what the fruit sold for, says McGehee. “Today, instead of people getting out of the peach business, people are getting back into it,” he says. “We’ve turned the tide as more peaches are being planted. We’re pushing Georgia peaches first before our own peaches.”
Genuine Georgia is a sales, packing, marketing and management group representing peaches, apples and pecans.
During the session, the Southeast produce industry honored others who received regional and national recognition in 2017.
Sam Watson, managing partner of Chill C Farms/ Moultrie Melon Co., based in Moultrie, GA, was recognized for being a University of Georgia 40 Under 40 graduate award winner. Chill C Farms grows bell peppers, squash, eggplant, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe. Watson is also a Georgia state representative.
John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce Inc., which grows and ships Vidalia onions from Reidsville, GA, was honored for being named marketer of the year by a produce publication.
Justin Shealey, an Echols County extension agent in Statenville, GA, southeast of Valdosta, GA, won this year’s Donnie H. Morris Award of Excellence in Extension. He was honored for his passion for agriculture. The award is presented in memory of former association president Donnie Morris who was a longtime Georgia cooperative extension supporter.