After a winter several growers and shippers described as brutal, the Mid-Atlantic produce season is shaping up well, if a bit late for some, they say.
“Crops are looking good,” said Mark Powell, chief of marketing and agribusiness development with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Annapolis.
There were some late-winter freezes that damaged some of the earliest varieties of stone fruit, Powell said. There also were numerous heavy rains during the spring, which delayed planting, he said.
“But our farmers are quickly catching up,” he said.
Maryland’s watermelon crop was 24% planted as of May 18, compared to 36% for the five-year average, according to state statistics. Sweet corn was at the five-year average of 51%; cantaloupes, 32%; and cucumbers, 34%.
Peaches are shaping up in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said Mike Blume, salesman with Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc.
“We may have minimal loss due to extreme cold temperatures, but we’ll have peaches,” he said.
The peach crop in New Jersey likely will start in mid-July, with West Virginia and Pennsylvania beginning in early August, he said.
The potato outlook in Virginia was playing catch-up, said David Hickman, vice president of Horntown, Va.-based Dublin Farms.
“In the summer potato business, you never know what it’s going to be like until it’s too late,” he said.
Cold and wet conditions hindered planting season, he said.
Hickman said he expects a healthy market when digging of reds gets underway around June 26.
“The potato market looks good right now,” he said. “Due to late planting here and in other areas, it should keep supply in line with demand.”
The deal may start a few days later than normal, but it wasn’t anything to worry about, Hickman said.
The weather settled into a more seasonal pattern in May, Hickman said.
“More recently, we’ve had normal weather, but in March and April, we had extremely wet, cold conditions, and that delayed the crop (and) affected the stands somewhat,” he said.
New Jersey crops
Blueberry bushes survived a colder-than-normal winter, said Bob Von Rohr, director of marketing and customer relations with Glassboro, N.J.-based Sunny Valley International Inc.
“As of right now, we’re starting a little later than normal, due to the cold spring we’ve had, and we’re looking at probably scratching at some blueberries around June 18-19, and by the week of June 23 we should be in peak production with blueberries in New Jersey,” he said.
The season, for conventional and organic berries, will run around 16 weeks, depending on various factors, Von Rohr said.
“We have large organic grower also out of New Jersey who will be starting at the same time,” he said.
It is shaping up to be a full crop for blueberries, Von Rohr said.
As far as Sunny Valley’s peaches and nectarines, the deal should get underway around July 7, Von Rohr said.
“We had a cold winter, plenty of chill hours, plenty of moisture and no real damage that occurred like the South had,” he said. “Everything looks good for New Jersey for yellow peaches, white peaches or nectarines.”
Steve Balderston of Colora, Md.-based Colora Orchards, which grows and ships apples and peaches, said the crops were looking good.
“Unless temperatures really go into the 50s or 60s every night, we’ll probably be on a normal schedule,” he said.
Vegetable crops in Virginia could be seven to 10 days later than last year, said Russell Brown, salesman with Oak Grove, Va.-based Parker Farms, which has cucumbers, squash, sweet corn and some specialty crops, including asparagus.
“If they’re anything like the Georgia crops, they’re going to start on the weak side but come in with some good volume right after the Fourth of July,” he said.
Calvert Cullen, owner of Cheriton, Va.-based Northampton Growers Produce Sales, said he was running anywhere between five days to a week later than normal.
“Right now, we’re looking at starting probably June 6 with beans, cabbage and squash,” he said.
Fifer Orchards in Wyoming, Del., was about halfway through its asparagus deal in the third week of May, said Curt Fifer, sales director.
“We’ve started into some strong strawberry volume and will for the next three weeks,” he said. “The crop’s better than last year. There seems to be a lot of interest.”
Potato grower Lazy Boy Farms in Middletown, Del., anticipates a mid-July start for its round whites, reds and yellows, said Ken Wicks, president.
“We have cabbage, too, and it’s coming along,” Wicks said.
Ed Kee, Delaware secretary of agriculture, said the weather finally broke for the better in late April.
“It was a brutally tough winter, but in the last month or so the weather kind of straightened out,” Kee said.
Watermelon, apples, sweet corn and cabbage were looking good, he said.
“So, despite a miserable cold winter, we were able to get out in the field in April and get some things going. Our apple crop looks good. It weathered the cold winter.”
Cold waves in January left its mark on some peach orchards, Kee said.
“Some varieties are perfect and other varieties were hurt a little, but overall, I think we’ll have a decent peach crop,” he said.
Delaware vegetables might be a bit later, but quality should be good, said Richard Papen, owner of Papen Farms in Dover.
He said his vegetable deal would start around June 10 with cabbage, with green beans starting about June 20 and sweet corn around July 10.