With weather problems in other growing areas, New Jersey fruit and vegetable growers reported strong demand for spring crops, and expected more of the same this summer.

Demand was strong out of the gate for Fresh Wave Fruit & Produce, Vineland, N.J., because of growing problems in Texas, said Nick Giordano, the company’s vice president.

The company began shipping romaine and leaf lettuce, parsley and cilantro about May 1, Giordano said.

“Texas had so many problems,” he said. “A lot of pressure came here fast when we were ready. Markets have been good.”

At the other end of the deal, Fresh Wave expects strong demand for its vegetable items because of poor weather in Canada, Giordano said.

“Canada is several weeks late, Ontario and Quebec,” he said May 19. “They’ve had five straight days of rain, and it has been extremely cold.”

Giordano is confident Fresh Wave will be able to extend its Jersey deals, possibly all the way to July 1, to fill the gaps expected to be left by Canada.

The company has more product this year to meet that extra demand, Giordano said. Lettuce acreage is up by about 300 acres for Fresh Wave.

Fresh Wave also expects strong demand for its blueberries, which should begin shipping in mid-June, Giordano said.

“Blueberries sell themselves,” he said. “Demand always exceeds supply.”

Tim Wetherbee, sales manager for Diamond Blueberry Inc., Hammonton, N.J., also expects strong demand for blueberries in 2011, given how the season has gone so far in other growing areas.

“The other states kicking in, there seems to be a positive response,” he said. “Demand seems to be very good.”

Poor early growing weather could wind up benefiting New Jersey growers, said Bill Nardelli, president of Cedarville, N.J.-based Nardelli Bros.

Not being able to get into the field every day to plant meant that plantings were spread out over a longer period of time, he said.

That’s ideal for Nardelli Bros., which tries to ship product as soon as it’s packed, and to have it in grocery stores and restaurants soon after.

“We want to have somebody eating it the next day,” he said. “By staggering plantings, we’re able to do that. You don’t want to have a glut.”

Whether the spread-out planting schedule this spring helped out or not, Nardelli Bros. has enjoyed brisk movement thus far this season, Nardelli said.

“We’ve had great demand,” he said. “There were some tight supplies where Florida and Texas finished, and the chains came in here and supported us well.”

Economic trends, however, pose challenges to keeping that demand high, Nardelli said.

“The economy is very, very poor in a lot of the parts of the country we go to,” he said.

Add high fuel prices into the mix, Nardelli said, and consumers in many cities east of the Mississippi have less money to spend on groceries.

“The (consumer) has less in her pocket, and she is prioritizing her produce purchases,” he said. “She needs paper towels, soap, milk and bread before produce.”

If peppers are $1.99 per pound, she might buy the cabbage at 89 cents per pound instead, Nardelli said.

The trend is evident at foodservice, Nardelli said.

“Mid-level restaurants, where you can get something for $10, are doing well,” he said. “High-end places are suffering.”

More long-term, for U.S. growers to stay viable, consumers will have to accept that they must bear some of the burden of ever-rising input costs, Nardelli said.

Otherwise, imports will take over.

“It will be like oil,” he said. “They’re going to say, ‘Here’s what you’re going to have to pay for it,’ and we’re going to have to like it.”

Growth in demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables continues to boost demand for New Jersey-grown product, said Phil Neary, director of operations and grower relations for Sunny Valley International, Glassboro, N.J.

Local, Neary said, is a concept that’s gone from marketing buzz word to reality in recent years.

“If you’d asked five or six years ago, I’d say that everybody’s talking about it, but it’s meaningless,” he said. “Now it’s a trend that has some meaning behind it.”

Sluggish demand in 2010 will mean a smaller New Jersey peach crop in 2011, said Jerry Frecon, agricultural agent with the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station in Clayton.

“There are fewer acres of peaches this year, definitely — 2010 was very tough,” he said.

A number of factors conspired to produce a season growers would like to forget, Frecon said.

“We were early, there was a lot of competition, prices were bad,” he said.

Heading into the 2011 season, the number of Garden State growers growing peaches is likely similar to last year, but they’re growing fewer of them, and more of them are marketing them locally, Frecon said.

Ben Casella, field representative for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, Trenton, agreed with Frecon that peach acreage would likely be down in 2011 due to fierce competition.

“It’s strictly a price issue, competing with California and the South,” Casella said.

Less serious New Jersey peach growers — those “not on the cutting edge,” Casella said — will be likely to cut back on peaches this season, leaving the deal to the experts.

Blueberry prices also weren’t as high in 2010, but Frecon doubts if growers are making any adjustments accordingly.

In fact, just the opposite is likely, Frecon said, given the fruit’s continued rock star status thanks to all the good nutrition-related news.

“I expect to see a small increase” in blueberry production in New Jersey in 2011, he said.