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The 2009 produce season is underway and should be highlighted by good quantities of high-quality produce.

So far this year, the weather has had a mild impact on New Jersey produce. Early warm and dry spring conditions quickly yielded to overcast and rainy weather which slowly warmed the soil. This resulted in later plowing and planting as well as more gradual growing conditions and bee pollination.

The weather has continued to be very seasonal in nature, leaving us slightly behind a normal production schedule at this time although unusual future weather could always affect the eventual harvest time.

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. The five principal fresh-market fruits are strawberries, blueberries, peaches, apples and cranberries.

The early-season harvests of spinach, collards, beets, radishes, escarole- endive, lettuces and herbs such as parsley, dill, coriander and cilantro went very well. Asparagus harvesting began in late April. Cabbage harvests were expected to begin in late May.

Chandler variety strawberries are being grown in increasing quantities by state growers to meet the strong demand for locally grown berries, which are grown in raised beds and under black plastic. They're picked when ripe and have more red interior color, large berry size and excellent taste. Early harvests were expected to begin the third week of May, with the bulk of the crop harvested toward the end of the month, and with lower volume to continue through early June.

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.

New Jersey growers also are looking to satisfy the growing ethnic populations of the state and their demand for Asian and other ethnic specialty produce, particularly melons, squashes, peppers and eggplants. There also are 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 large growth potential.

This season also will see another excellent and spirited Jersey Fresh marketing effort. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will disseminate a weekly "Jersey Fresh Forecast & Availability" e-mail, will again distribute plenty of excellent point-of-sale materials, and will continue to maintain regular contact with buyers.

(Bill Walker is an agricultural marketing specialist with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.)

(For more on the Jersey deal, see the June 1 issue of The Produce News.)