Carolina fruit deal kicks off early

05/10/2012 01:41:00 PM
Melissa Shipman

The mild winter brought on an early start to the Carolina fruit deal, but supplies should last nearly the full season.

The Carolina strawberry season, which typically runs from mid-April to the first part of June, came nearly two weeks early.

“It was about nine days to two weeks early, but it looks to hold until the end of May with this weather pattern,” said Matt Solana, vice president of operations and supply chain for Jackson Farming Co., Autryville, N.C.

The early season is the result of a mild winter and exceptionally high temperatures this spring.

“We’re now having more early spring time weather, which will allow it to bloom again, and the heat allows it to ripen and gives it the red color,” Solana said.

Sue Leggett, partner in Leggett Farming Partnership, which operates two you-pick strawberry stands in addition to its wholesale berries, said the company began picking on April 8, 12 days ahead of schedule.

“We will have a longer season than we’ve had in a long time,” Leggett said. “We’ll be picking through the end of May.”

Prices may be slightly down on the wholesale level because of the large supply, but Leggett reports prices at their stands have held pretty consistent.

Solana said strawberry prices will depend on Mother Nature.

“There’s a normal price starting out of Florida, but it all depends on where the collisions occur with other supplies,” Solana said.

Jackson Farming Co.’s watermelons, cantaloupes and specialty melons began setting in mid-April, which usually puts them at retail a few days after Fourth of July. This year, Solana said they could be ready in time for the popular melon-eating holiday.

“The plantings are at the normal times, and the deal typically starts in mid-June and runs through Labor Day, but it depends on the heat units,” Solana said.

Across the board, Carolina fruit should come in a little early, according to Kevin Hardison, marketing specialist with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Acreage is about the same as last year.

“We expect on target or maybe a little bit bigger,” he said.

In South Carolina, strawberries, blueberries, and some of the earliest peaches have started.

“The projection for peaches is that the harvest will be strong through June and well into July,” said Martin Eubanks, assistant commissioner, agricultural services for the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.

Tommy Chappell, a partner with Chappell Farms Inc., Barnwell, S.C., said dry weather has helped the peach crop.

“We’ve got a good, clean early crop, and it’s been dry, so the sugar content should be excellent,” he said.

Warm weather will have melons ahead of schedule, but growers are trying to keep them in their harvest window of early June, according to Eubanks.



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