There are few things as quintessentially Deep South as a Georgia peach, whose image appears on state license plates, "Welcome to Georgia" billboards, and road signs. There's just one problem: Blueberries are Georgia's most lucrative fruit crop, by far. In a little-noticed development, the value of blueberry production in Georgia beat the peach crop in 2005—and the gap has grown even bigger since then, according to USDA surveys. Blueberries generated an estimated $94 million for Georgia growers in 2012, to peaches' nearly $30 million. And Georgia isn't even the biggest US peach producer: It's regularly beat by California and neighboring South Carolina.
The rise of the blueberry was driven by a combination of supply-and-demand economics coupled with a good growing environment (blueberry-killing frosts are rare, for instance). Major blueberry producers, particularly in Michigan, wanted to get berries on supermarket shelves earlier in the year. They signed deals with growers in Georgia since the state starts harvesting its berries in April, ahead of Florida and California. Their move came as the Peach State was looking for replacements for traditional Southern crops such as tobacco and timber. "It's surprising around the country how many people don't realize Georgia grows blueberries," says a blueberry farmer. Still, "I don't foresee Georgia changing to the blueberry state." (Read more Georgia stories.)