Weather improves for New Jersey's fruit crops

05/26/2011 04:10:00 PM
Andy Nelson

New Jersey started the year with excessive rains, but a cold winter and excellent spring growing weather promised a good season for peaches and blueberries, grower-shippers said.

“Knock on wood, but it was the best winter for dormancy and the best spring we’ve seen in a long time,” said Phil Neary, director of operations and grower relations for Sunny Valley International, Glassboro, N.J.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re nearing the time where (severe weather events) are unlikely.”

Plenty of moisture, followed by plenty of warm, sunny May days promised very good quality, Neary said.

Peaches

Peaches bloomed in mid-April, right on time, with shipments expected to begin after the Fourth of July, Neary said.

Sunny Valley expects to market about 1 million boxes of New Jersey peaches this year, similar to last year.

Yellow-flesh peaches will comprise about 87% of the company’s stone fruit program this year, nectarines 7% and white-flesh peaches 6%.

The company expects to ship a few more white peaches this year, and fewer nectarines, Neary said.

Between February and early May New Jersey fruit crops endured unusually wet weather, but by mid-May, peach, blueberry, apple and other crops had enjoyed a week of dry weather, and things were looking up, said Jerry Frecon, agricultural agent with the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station in Clayton.

“Fruit crops are normal in terms of development,” Frecon said. “The bloom was fairly normal. We’ve had fairly good growing weather. It’s kind of strange — we had some heavy downpours, now it’s dried out. Except for poorly drained fields, it should be a fairly normal season.”

In May, growers were playing catch up, said Ben Casella, field representative for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, Trenton.

“Things are looking better,” he said. “If the good weather continues, they’ll probably catch up. Strawberries are coming off nicely. Somehow, it always manages to come out in the wash.”

Deals will probably begin later than usual, on average, but not by much, Casella said.

Peaches, in particular, had a very heavy set this year, Frecon said. About 60 million to 65 million pounds of peaches are expected to ship from the Garden State this year, comparable to last year, he said.

Because of the heavy rains early in the season, soil moisture levels are high, resulting in big sizing on early season fruit.

“There’s been a lot of blossom thinning on peaches so I think the size will be good,” Frecon said. “There’s more disease pressure when it’s wet, but I think it’s being managed with timely sprays.”

Casella agreed.

“It’s important to see how the weather plays out — they are susceptible to disease,” he said. “Right now, things are looking good.”

A few peaches will be harvested before the Fourth of July, but for the most part, the deal will begin in earnest after the holiday, Casella said.

Blueberries

Tim Wetherbee, sales manager for Diamond Blueberry Inc., Hammonton, N.J., said in mid-May that everything was on schedule for a good New Jersey blueberry season.

“We had a good pollinization period, the timing is normal — we should start in mid-June,” he said. “Everything so far is pretty positive.”

Diamond expects to market 850-900 acres of Jersey blueberries this season, about the same as last year.

Blueberry-growing weather in New Jersey has been close to perfect this year, said Nick Giordano, vice president of Fresh Wave Fruit & Produce, Vineland, N.J.

“The set was nice, and the pollinization has been wonderful,” Giordano said May 19. “I was out there a week ago, and the bees were everywhere.”

Fresh Wave expects to begin shipping about June 15, right on time.

New Jersey growers should begin harvesting blueberries in the first or second week of June, Casella said.

“From what I hear, it looks to be a good crop,” he said.

Blueberries bloomed about April 23, and when flowers were out, warm, sunny days were there to greet bees, Neary said.

“It was one of the best pollinizations we’ve had in awhile,” he said.

Sunny Valley expects to market about 750,000 pint-equivalent flats of blueberries this year, similar to last year, Neary said.



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