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New Jersey growers enjoying good start to spring deal

by John Groh | May 31, 2010
For anyone who makes a living growing fruits and vegetables, the whims of Mother Nature are an all-too-familiar part of the deal.

Up and down the East Coast, growers have seen the timing of their deals thrown off this spring, with Florida and Georgia trying to recover from record freezes and states in the mid-Atlantic region having endured drenching rains that pushed back planting schedules.

In New Jersey, growers experienced their share of trepidation as record rainfall in late March that gave way to record-high temperatures the first week of April, raising speculation that the start of the spring vegetable deal would be delayed by as much as two weeks. With the Southern deals coming on later than normal, the main concern was that production would overlap on certain items and that markets would suffer as a result.

Thankfully, that has not come to pass, according to vegetable growers in the Garden State.

"Everything is on track," Skip Consalo, president of The Fresh Wave in Vineland, NJ, told The Produce News May 26. "Greens started April 20, and we had a full line by May 10. The weather has been perfect, and as a result, we have had almost no quality issues. When you have the cool nights and days that are not burning hot, you get great product."

Mr. Consalo said that early concerns about overlapping production have also proved to be a non-issue so far this season. "As of now, the markets have been really good," he said. "Squash is now $12 a box, and it could be $4 or $5 if there was a lot on the market."

Bill Nardelli, president of Nardelli Bros. in Cedarville, NJ, characterized 2010 as a "very different season," but concurred with Mr. Consalo about production being on track and markets being strong.

"On some commodities, we were a little early, and on some we were a little late, but the quality has been excellent and the markets have been favorable," he said. "The push for local product is moving things along, and we are getting good patronization from the chains."

"Everything straightened out nicely," Michael D'Ottavio, president of M. D'Ottavio Produce Inc. in Vineland, said May 26. "Once the weather warmed up, things under row cover and plastic really started to pop. The wet veg looks really nice, and we had some hot markets early on with red leaf and green leaf lettuce."

Mr. D'Ottavio added that he was looking at an early start to some of the dry items like squash, cucumbers and pickles.

Bob Donio, vice president of Frank Donio Inc. in Hammonton, NJ, said, "It looks like we're pretty much on target. The weather dried up in April and May, and all the vegetable crops look very good, and the quality is nice."

Mr. Donio said that with Zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers and green beans soon to start in earnest, there could be some overlap with Southern deals still underway.

"But New Jersey has an advantage on freight rates," he said. "Loads out of the South are about 50 percent higher than last year."

Mr. D'Ottavio agreed, saying that in addition to the favorable freight rates, New Jersey is "in a great spot. We offer 85 items and can consolidate a load and offer overnight delivery to the major markets like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and Washington, DC. I think that is the major advantage we offer in New Jersey."

For Mr. Nardelli, whose company for decades has operated a fleet of refrigerated trucks to deliver product up and down the East Coast, New Jersey's location has long been a selling point for his customers.

"I'm getting more and more feedback about New Jersey being one of the areas where you can consolidate loads and get them to the major market overnight," he said. "We are able to bring loads from the South, cross-dock and consolidate them for the chains so they don't have to deal with that."

Mr. Consalo said that he has also seen a bump in business as a result of higher freight rates out of the South. "With rates being 50 percent higher [than last season] out of the South, we're seeing more customers pulling from the Northeast."

And while all the veteran growers know that Mother Nature could again assert her superiority, they are content with enjoying a good start to the spring deal. "We're happy with the season so far and hopeful that it continues all summer," said Mr. Consalo.

(For more on the New Jersey spring produce deal, see the May 31, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)