Chill hours promise a strong New Jersey peach crop

05/31/2013 11:35:00 AM
Andrew Nelson

Courtesy Sunny Valley InternationalSunny Valley International is the exclusive marketing agent for Jersey Fruit and Just Picked peaches grown in New Jersey. New Jersey peaches, in their fifth century of production, have more than stood the test of time. The 2013 season promises to be no different, with growers and officials reporting new plantings.

Glassboro, N.J.-based Sunny Valley International expects to begin shipping Jersey-grown peaches at the beginning of July, a typical start but five days later than last season’s early start, said Bob Von Rohr, marketing and customer relations manager.

“We had a good winter, with plenty of chill hours and moisture,” Von Rohr said.

Sunny Valley expects to ship peaches through mid-September. The company ships mainly yellow-flesh varieties and expects a similar mix of yellow and white-flesh production this year, Von Rohr said.


New trees boost yields

Some Jersey growers are pulling out old trees and adding new ones, Von Rohr said. Some trees planted three to five years ago are coming into production this season.

Better yields and color are among the attributes growers are looking for, he said.

“They’re working with Rutgers on more customer-friendly varieties. Color is very important for consumers.”

Freshwave Fruit & Produce LLC, Vineland, N.J., expects to begin harvesting right after the Fourth of July, with some pallet volume that week and load volumes by the following week, said Skip Consalo, the company’s president.

That’s about a week later than usual, but the company doesn’t count on fruit for Fourth of July pull in a normal year anyway, Consalo said.

Everything looks good heading into the 2013 season, he said.

Cool weather early in the growing season should ensure long shelf life, and warmer weather later in the season has been great for sugars and overall quality, Consalo said.

Freshwave expects to ship at least 20% more and possibly up to 30% more peaches this season, Consalo said.

Some new acreage the company’s grower-partners have been developing for several years should start to come into production this season.


An industry renaissance

Since the 17th century, peach trees have thrived in New Jersey’s soil and climate, Santo John Maccherone, chairman of the Glassboro-based New Jersey Peach Promotion Council, said in a news release.

And according to Maccherone and others, this year represents a kind of renaissance for the industry.

“Planting more trees is a healthy sign for the New Jersey peach industry,” said Maccherone, whose Salem-based Circle M Farms has increased acreage of both yellow- and white-fleshed peaches and nectarines for 2013.

The increase in plantings has been concentrated in Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland counties, Maccherone said.

Growers planting new trees include Holtzhauser Farms and Heilig Orchards in Mullica Hill, Gloucester County; Melick’s Town Farm in Oldwick, Hunterdon County; Donaldson Farms in Hackettstown, Warren County; and Terhune Orchards in Princeton, Mercer County.

It’s not hard to figure out what’s driving the increase in supply, Maccherone said.

“With a trend toward increased prices, there will be a corresponding increase in tree planting,” he said.

According to data collected by the New Jersey Agricultural Statistics Service, the 2012 season average price was 66 cents per pound, 5 cents per pound higher than the previous year.

Jerry Frecon, Rutgers professor emeritus and a former agricultural agent specializing in fruit, said industrywide trends have benefited growers of New Jersey peaches.

“We see some definite positive changes in our peach industry, as acreage has recently increased to meet the demand for tree-ripened locally grown Jersey fresh peaches.”

Frecon said many new plantings are designed to extend the season by a couple of weeks either at the beginning or the end of the season, which should run from about late June through September.

Speaking of trends, it’s not just locally grown that has driven growth in the New Jersey peach industry, Frecon said.

“Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen an increase in the types and varieties of peaches we can plant because of global warming,” he said.

“We just don’t have the cold winters we used to, which enables growers to worry less about buds freezing and allows for growing some high-quality, bud-tender varieties. We can grow novel varieties, low-acid peaches and white and yellow-fleshed nectarines.”

So far, the 2013 season is tracking closer to normal, unlike 2012, when high February temperatures forced an early bloom in April, Maccherone said.

High winds and storms also caused havoc on trees then, he said.

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