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2018 New Jersey produce industry outlook

The 2018 produce season is under way and should be highlighted by good quantities of high-quality produce.

A mild winter was followed by a cool and wet spring, which did not allow most of our farmers to get their tilling and planting started early this season. Early weather delayed spring plant growth and did not allow over-wintered and spring-planted produce to get off to an early start to the season. Early-season bee pollination efforts were also slowed by the weather.blueberries

The end result was a two-week delay to the start of our Jersey Fresh season in many cases, including for over-wintered produce such as cilantro, spinach, leeks, parsley, and kale.

With warming weather and increasing soil temperatures, things are starting to ramp up, and there is much to be excited about.

Slowly warming spring temperatures have created exceptional growing conditions, ensuring excellent product quality and extending the length of the season for all of our spring products. Looking ahead, we are also anticipating outstanding quality and quantity for our summer crops.

Tom Sheppard of Eastern Fresh Growers in Cedarville, Cumberland County, said, “The season has been a few weeks later than normal, so our early season volume was off but we’re hoping this cooler late-season weather allows our asparagus season to go into the third week of June. Our cukes will be ready by then and we’re thinking mid-July for our peppers. We’re normally a bit later than the Vineland area on those crops.”

Dr. Wes Kline, Rutgers University agricultural agent, said that “the season has started later due to cool and wet conditions but the crops have developed beautifully and the slowly warming weather has been great for maturing our early season crops. That same weather, though, has made it hard getting our summer season crops started in this weather, so we’ll have a later start to our summer season as well.”

New Jersey enjoys the productivity of a great diversity of fruits and vegetables due to its moderate climate and inherent “Jersey Fresh” qualities. New Jersey’s 11 principal fresh market vegetables are tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, eggplant, escarole, snap beans, and asparagus. Our five principal fresh market fruits are strawberries, blueberries, peaches, apples, and cranberries.

The early season harvests of spinach, collards, beets, radishes, escarole/endive, Swiss chard, lettuces, and herbs such as parsley, dill, coriander and cilantro, are two weeks later than normal, but their quality has been very good. Asparagus and lettuces harvesting began in early-May in excellent quality and lower early-season volume than normal. Cabbage and turnip harvests began in late-May. Cucumbers and squash will start in mid-June. Consumers always look for sweet corn and tomatoes by the Fourth of July but, with a late start to the season this year, may not be in sufficient volume by then. Peppers should start the week after corn and tomatoes.

Strawberries are being grown in increasing quantities by our growers to meet the strong demand for locally grown berries. They are grown in raised beds and under black plastic. They’re picked when ripe and have more red interior color, a large berry size, and an excellent taste. Early harvests began in mid-May, with the bulk of the crop harvested toward the end of May and into early-June. They’re mainly a direct-marketed crop in New Jersey, and not a large wholesale volume is available.

Minor quantities of early blueberry varieties like Weymouth should be starting in mid-June.

The much more widely planted Duke variety should start three to four days later, with volume available a week after that. In 2016, New Jersey produced about 9,300 acres of blueberries yielding about 44 million pounds.

Yellow peach volume should start with the early “cling” varieties in mid-July, with volume by late-July. The widely planted John Boy “clingless” varieties should start by the end of July. Good yellow volume expected by early-August through early-September. White peach volume begins with the White Lady variety in mid-August through early-September.

In 2016, 150 peach producers grew about 39.8 million pounds of quality peaches on 4,700 total peach acres, according to the latest USDA statistics.

New Jersey growers are also looking to satisfy the growing ethnic population of the state and their demand for Asian and other ethnic specialty produce, particularly melons, squashes, peppers and eggplants. There are also numerous field trials of these new ethnic varieties being grown by farmers and agricultural agents throughout the state. This area of production is thought to have a big growth potential.

With the unpredictable spring weather now behind us, we are looking forward to another tremendous growing season for farmers across the state, which will in turn result in fantastic Jersey Fresh marketing opportunities at the retail level.

Bill Walker, New Jersey Department of Agriculture