New Jersey peach growers are hoping to extend their season this year and compete more closely with out-of-state tree fruit thanks to a variety of promotional programs.
“We are always developing newer varieties,” said Jerry Frecon, agricultural agent at the Rutgers New Jersey Ag Experiment Station in Clayton.
“We are trying to promote the full market — white-flesh peaches, yellow-flesh peaches, white- and yellow-flesh nectarines and flat peaches.”
Frecon said New Jersey peach growers also have two distinct advantages: being one of the oldest peach industries in the country, and better quality and flavor because of proximity to major markets.
Frecon said the state government has also emphasized to the citizens of New Jersey that choosing locally grown peaches means helping to preserve farmers’ livelihoods and farmland in the Garden State.
Pegi Adam, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, Trenton, said New Jersey growers are trying to get the message to supermarkets that they don’t need to source late-season peaches from California.
“It is quite competitive because supermarkets go back to California automatically,” she said. “Let’s not make it an automatic thing after Labor Day, because we still have peaches.”
Adam said that New Jersey’s state university, Rutgers, has developed late-season varieties that extend the season and will be picked this year.
“We are going to probably have peaches until the end of September that we can count on,” he said.
Phil Neary, director of operations and grower relations for Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J., said peach growers have to grow late-season varieties.
“Peach growers tend to be specialists. They tend to be a peach grower only,” he said. “They have to have varieties that go all the way into the late season.”
Asked if he thought New Jersey peaches could be competitive in September, Neary said growers might still be picking through Sept. 25.
“We typically have very competitive, good volume … through September,” he said, noting that one challenge is changing retailer habits to turn toward fall crops after Labor Day.
He said another possible challenge this year might be a full peach crop across the country.
“Right now the entire country, for the most part, is thinking about the full crop potential,” he said.
“When you have a full crop, peaches have to move. You pick them, you pack them, you ship them.”
Peach experts said warm weather this spring led to a full, early bloom that may result in strong volumes this season.
“We had a very heavy peach bloom because of the warm weather we got in late March/ early April,” Frecon said. “Nights have cooled down a little, so things have slowed down.”
Although Frecon said anything can happen between now and harvesting, growers are expecting a normal season of marketing. That translates to 60% to 70% of the crop going to wholesale channels and 30% to 40% of the crop through on the farm retail or farmers markets
“We’ll start picking in early July and by July 10, we’ll probably be shipping some early peaches,” he said.
Frecon said he expects suppliers to be marketing peaches into September, but he said there could be additional late-season pressure this year because of an increase in plantings by southern states and traditional competition from California peaches and nectarines.
Kurt Alstede, general manager for Alstede Farms LLC, Chester, N.J., said he is increasing his acreage of tree fruit, including apples, peaches, cherries, plums and nectarines.
“We’re in the midst of planting 3,000 apple trees,” he said, noting the increased demand from families in urban areas visiting his pick-your-own farm and staying for a half-day of activities.
Frecon said that even with farmers like Alstede planting more acreage, peach acreage has dropped each year recently because of the pressure for land.
He estimated this year’s acreage to be about 6,600 acres, which translates to 65 million pounds of peaches.
“There is just too much pressure for land,” he said.
“It was declining more rapidly, but the demand for land has slowed down with the decline in house sales and development.”
Frecon said that Gloucester county used to provide 70% of the acreage for peach orchards, but farmland loss to residential construction has led to more plantings in Cumberland and Salem counties further south.
“It’s easier to sell the land for good money than to grow peaches,” he said.
Although a smaller player in the peach deal compared to states like California, Neary said New Jersey benefits from the know-how of multi-generation peach growers.
“Some farmers in New Jersey, literally their family came off the Mayflower and they are 11th generation,” he said.
“New Jersey is well adapted to growing peaches, and has experts in bringing a peach to maturity, so it has full flavor.”
Neary said although New Jersey can’t compete with California’s promotional dollars, the state banks on its proximity to market and freshness.
“We’re trying to get as much public relations as possible through some media events,” he said, adding that an attractive Web site is also helping.
“My outlook for 2010, when I’m looking at the peach deal, is California, California, California,” said Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau.
“But maybe California one of these days will come up a little short because of a water shortage and drought conditions out there, or diesel fuel and the cost of shipping goes back to 2008 conditions, and our peach producers could experience a boost in sales.”
Pegi Adam, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, said the agency is doing some advertisements in the consumer press and distributing brochures and a recipe booklet to grocery stores and farmers markets.
“We had a few of them last year, but not as many as we are doing this year,” she said.
Adam said there will also be more Peach Parties this year, with an expanded push for the successful initiative that brought farmers markets, restaurants, grocery stores and consumers together at family-oriented events that promoted peaches.
“We were very pleased with it last year,” she said. “The goals were to increase awareness of Jersey Fresh peaches and to get people to look for Jersey Fresh peaches by looking for the brand.”
Adam also said the state government declared August, the height of the peach season, to be Jersey Fresh Peach month.
“The community farmers markets declare one day in early August to be Jersey Peach Day,” she said of a celebration within the month. “Some have special events, face painting, kids contests, stories, and sometimes give away peaches.”