New Jersey growers look to maintain gains in regional expansion brought on by last year’s high diesel prices while also boosting their “buy local” appeal despite deep cuts in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Jersey Fresh program.

Pete Macrie, president of Paul J. Macrie Inc., Hammonton, N.J., said he thinks the current economic troubles will not affect the Jersey produce market.

“I wouldn’t say the fresh business is recession proof, but I think maybe you’ll see steadier, more stable markets,” he said.

“People seem to be eating at home more. They seem to have more time to cook with more meals eating at home. I don’t think it will be any major differences really.”

Macrie has seen particular growth in blueberries, he added. Paul J. Macrie Inc. also handles peppers, eggplant and dry vegetables including squash, cucumbers, and beans, and the company does pre-processing work.
“The good news is people are still eating and we don’t grow specialty crops, so it’s not like we can say that is our measuring stick,” said Paul Ordille, co-manager for the South Jersey Produce Co-op Association Inc., Vineland, N.J.

Ordille said the South Jersey Produce Co-op concentrates on the cooking greens including lettuce and herbs and summer crops such as squash, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and melons.

Jerry Frecon, agricultural agent specializing in fruit science for the Gloucester Co. Cooperative Extension and Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Clayton, N.J., said though it is still early, good volume of high quality tree fruit is also expected.

“Everything is lining up nicely for a large crop of large-sized fruit,” he said, referring specifically to peaches. “We still have a long way to go, but we are right on track for this early season.”

Kurt Alstede, general manager for Alstede Farms LLC, Chester, N.J., whose 500-acre farm specializes in you-pick crops, said he is adding more trees each year to his peach, nectarine, plum, cherry and apricot orchards.

“I think that each year we are putting in more tress, about 22 acres in peach production — yellows, whites and pink-toes,” he said.

“It’s a typical New Jersey spring: cold and wet then hot and dry, then back to cold and wet,” said Tom Sheppard, president of Eastern Fresh Growers Inc., Cedarville, N.J.

“You don’t have every day to plant — just two days a week — so you have to take advantage.”

Sheppard said the weather has resulted in asparagus crops that are “good and nice and selling.”

Peter Bylone, general manager, Vineland Cooperative Produce Auction Association Inc., Vineland, N.J., said he believes the weather has been excellent for the greens.

Ben Casella, field representative for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, Trenton, said wet weather has caused a slight planting delay.

“It’s a wetter weather spring than normal. It doesn’t hurt because it replenishes some of the aquifers and the ponds for irrigation, because we rely heavily on irrigation,” he said.

“A couple days’ hit in the 90s created a push on the asparagus, but nothing that would lead us to have any economic impact on the crop.”

Vince Consalo, president of Wm. Consalo & Sons Farms Inc., Vineland, N.J., said the cold weather didn’t harm crops, but will make them hardier. Wm. Consalo & Sons grows herbs, spinach, leeks and romaine, red leaf and green leaf lettuce.

“All it did was made them grow at a slower pace, and that’s why we’re a little behind from last year,” he said. “It’s better to grow the stuff in cooler weather — it just grows a lot slower.”

Sam Pipitone, president of F&S Produce Co., Rosenhayn, N.J., agreed a cooler spring delays the start-up, but subsequent heat waves have made up for lost time. Nonetheless, some farmers have been taking matters into their own hands.