CEDARVILLE, N.J. — The Garden State’s lettuce and leafy greens started about two weeks earlier than normal and grower-shippers say the season looks to be nearly perfect.
The region ships a variety of lettuces, leafy greens and herbs.
In early to mid-March, depending on growing conditions, the traditional overwintered items including curly and flat parsley, cilantro, spinach, leeks and radishes begin production.
April 10-15 typically sees the start of the heartier greens including collards, dandelion, kale, swiss chard, mustard, turnip, beets and kohlrabi.
In early May, romaine, red leaf, green leaf, escarole, endive, boston bibb and other lettuces begin production and hit volume by mid-May.
August heat brings a short gap but production resumes for the fall in September and runs through the first freeze.
Lettuce production began April 15 for Nardelli Bros. Inc., while the overwintered items of parsley, spinach and leeks started a month earlier.
Bill Nardelli, president, said warmer weather afforded for early plantings.
“We are off to a real good start on the early spring deal,” Nardelli said in mid-May.
“It has been a real good season. Texas and Florida wound up in a good time frame. The leafy greens are outstanding and we are seeing strong demand.”
Nardelli said a warmer than normal early spring growing season provided favorable growing conditions. He said the crops are coming along a little stronger than he anticipated and said a few light rains helped maturities.
Vince Consalo, president of Wm. Consalo & Sons Farms Inc., Vineland, called quality strong.
“They look gorgeous,” he said in mid-May. “They’re beautiful.”
R&R Flaim Next Generation Produce LLC, Vineland, began its lettuce production in late April, a week earlier than normal.
“Lettuce right now looks exceptionally nice,” Ryan Flaim said in mid-May. “The quality, body and weight are good and the overall appearance is excellent.”
Flaim in mid-May called demand strong but characterized prices as average.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture in mid-May wasn’t reporting New Jersey prices.
It reported $12.45-13.85 for cartons of 24s of escarole from California’s central coast, while cartons of bunched 60s curly parsley from the same growing region were selling for $8.35-9.45.
Though other growers’ early season production started earlier than normal in April, Eastern Fresh Growers Inc. began its lettuce harvesting in early May with volume expected to hit in mid-May, said Tom Sheppard, president.
“Everything looks good and we have good quality,” Sheppard said in early May.
“It’s good that the weather has cooled. We wouldn’t want the lettuce to go through a lot of real warm weather.”
Eastern Fresh contracts a majority of its lettuce to fresh-cut processors.
Freshwave Fruit & Produce LLC, Vineland, began lettuce harvesting in late April.
Tom Consalo, director of sales, said the grower-shipper began pushing early promotions in early May, ahead of the normal May 14-15 start of the promotional push.
Volume increased in mid-May when it was harvesting promotable volumes.
“Quality so far has been good,” Consalo said in mid-May.
“Everything has been good. We have good sizing and the quality has been real nice. We have good weight. Retailers are concerned with weight and have weight requirements and specs.”
On greens, Flaim called quality strong.
“Overall, the stem bases and bodies are a lot better because ... this spring’s growing conditions are better,” he said in mid-May.
“Last year, the lack of sunlight with all those overcast days contributed to less stem body.”
Buyers should expect an earlier than normal start for this year’s cabbage deal.
Freshwave’s Consalo said he expects production to begin in late May, a week earlier than the normal early to mid-June start.
“We’re doing a good slug of cabbage now,” Consalo said in early May.
“We’ve just made the transition from Florida to Georgia, and it was a seamless transition. We didn’t have any gaps and it kept right along. That’s a rarity.”
Consalo said New Jersey cabbage looks strong. He said he expects high quality.
Nardelli said he expects harvesting to start in early June.
He lamented the low spring markets.
“Cabbage has been really tough,” Nardelli said in early May.
“We’re now looking at $7 f.o.b.s in Georgia. That’s no money compared to what growers are putting into cabbage with all your costs and packaging.”
Flaim said last year made for a strong deal and called this season favorable.
“It’s heading up exceptionally well because of the weather,” he said in early May.
“Weather has been ideal and the warmer nights help it head up more evenly.”
Cabbage harvesting usually runs through November and early December.