New Jersey growers hoping for dry spell to get back on track
by John Groh | April 07, 2010
With March bringing record rainfall to many parts of the Garden State
followed by unseasonably warm temperatures in early April, growers are
keeping one eye on their fields and the other on the weather forecast as they
hope for a reprieve from the extremes and a return to a normal production
Bill Nardelli, president of Nardelli Bros. in Cedarville, NJ, told The Produce
News April 6 that water remains on the ground in low-lying areas and that
some areas are still not able to be farmed, but "everybody seems to have
enough high ground that they have been able to get started. We had a little
gap at the middle or end of March where we were able to dry out a bit and
get seed planted, then we got a little rain that kept us out for a few days. But
despite that, the stuff looks remarkably well."
He added that the situation would have been a lot worse if the rain had come
later in the season. "It would have been more detrimental to us," he said of
that scenario. "But since we were able to seed stuff and having wintered-over
stuff and having stuff under row cover, we were able to keep the quality very
nice. What we hope for now is not a lot more rain in order to stay on
schedule. If it dries out now, we should be in good shape."
With temperatures spiking to summer-like levels the week of April 5, the
ground temperature will rise and help things recover, according to Mr.
Nardelli. "We've already started with spinach, cilantro, parsley, leeks and
rapini, and then greens like collard and mustard will come on," he said.
"Commodities like some of the early lettuce will be late by a week or so, but
we'll be rolling along pretty nicely if things stay dry."
David Arena, president of Frank Donio Inc. in Hammonton, NJ, agreed, saying
that the area is still so wet, but the above-normal temperatures have allowed
the company to get its production back on track. And the company is
planning to pick up the pace in a hurry - if the weather cooperates.
"Certain crops recover easily and certain crops don't. It will depend on the
weather in the next couple of weeks," Mr. Arena said. "Leafy greens will be
about eight to 14 days late, and some of the dry veg we get in late June could
be late if we don't get back on track."
The unusual weather has been an issue up and down the East Coast, and as
such has set the stage for a potential glut of production in the coming weeks.
"We have to see how things play out," said Mr. Nardelli, "but if things continue
the way they are going, there could be a lot of areas producing
simultaneously in the spring."
He said that the freeze in Florida and Georgia this past winter set those areas
back, and as a result, parts of the Carolinas will have product before Georgia.
"Probably in mid-May, we'll see the whole East Coast in production," said Mr.
Nardelli. "We're hoping the northern areas [north of New Jersey] will stay a
little cooler to hold them back a little. We need our window to get things
done a little earlier than the Midwest and Northeast. It looks like a lot of the
New England growers are way behind due to the significant flooding they had
Bob Donio, vice president of Frank Donio Inc., concurred with Mr. Nardelli but
added that it is still too early to say if that would be the case. A glut in
production "could happen in the middle of June, which is when hardware
vegetables like cukes, squash and peppers start to happen in bigger volume.
But everything depends on the weather. We should know by the second or
third week in April," he said.
So far, there have not been any quality issues detected as a result of the
abundant moisture in the fields.
"Quality issues related to moisture are always a concern," said Mr. Arena.
"That's why we spend so much money on post-harvest cooling, so we can get
the field temperature out to keep it as fresh as we can."
Mr. Donio added that the effect of the weather on the company's blueberry
crop was also a concern. "It's also too early to tell, but with all this hot
weather, the danger is that the plants could start to bloom too early, which is
risky because if we get a freeze after they bloom, it could be a catastrophe.
Normally, they bloom the middle of April (13-20), but if they start blooming
this weekend, it would be a week to 10 days early. If the weather stays warm,
we could be looking at an early season, but if it cools off, then it would be a
Mr. Donio added, "In all the years I have been in the business, the weather
pattern [this year] has been the craziest. The cold weather in Florida, the
rains in Mexico -- you can't get into any kind of pattern or rhythm. For the
most part, things could equalize and get back on schedule rather quickly
depending on the weather."