California's cling peach growers are paying one another to bulldoze cling peach trees.

The voluntary tree destruction program, begun last week, is designed to help canners unload peaches from bulging warehouses and to increase prices for canned peaches.

Hurt by the popularity of fresh fruit and competition from other dessert products, the demand for canned peaches has been declining while the supply has grown.

Faced with a second bountiful year of cling peaches that are processed for canning, the 1,100 growermembers of the Canning Peach Association agreed to assess themselves $750 per acre or $50 per ton of peaches and use the money to pay those farmers willing to fell trees.

No government money is involved.

One hundred forty six growers have signed up to have 2,000 acres of cling peach trees bulldozed.

"We're hoping these Draconian efforts will help bring supply and demand into line," said Larry Tabor, president of the Canners League of California.

Without the anticipated increase in prices, Tabor warned, the canned peach could head "the way of the dodo bird and canned asparagus."

But Harry Snyder, director of the West Coast regional office of Consumer's Union, accused the growers of "getting together in an anticompetitive fashion to all agree to limit produce."

The result, he said, will be higher prices.

Growers concurred, saying that if the voluntary tree destruction project succeeds, consumers will find the cost of canned peaches rising somewhat.

"There's a rationale behind what they're doing," Snyder said. "But if you allow each set of growers for each commodity to band together under cover of the law, in order to maintain high prices by limiting supply, the food supply will be in danger."

In previous years a killer frost or harvest rain served to limit the suply of cling peaches.

The problem these days, says fourth-generation grower Jack Hooper, is that "the good Lord has been good to us, too good, in fact.

"The weather was ideal for growing peaches for the second year in a row," said Hooper. "But that amount of peaches historically could not be sold, could not be given for free. People wouldn't drive to get them."

Hardest hit by the plentiful supply of clings are the canners, who annually contract to process a specified number of cling peach acres.

Last year the statewide estimate per acre stood at 16 tons. The actual yield averaged 18 tons per acre.

Despite what the canners say was their inability to sell them, they still were required to process all of the peaches.

The canners suffered severe losses. At Pacific Coast Producers, a growers' canning cooperative, the lhuge harvest resulted in a million-dollar loss, said vice president of marketing Charles Griffiths.