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The 2011 produce season is underway and should be highlighted by good quantities of high-quality produce.

NJ veg
The New Jersey spring vegetable season is off to a good start. (Photo by Gordon M. Hochberg)
So far this year, unusual weather has had only a slight impact on the growing conditions for New Jersey produce. Spring has been slightly wetter and cooler than usual, especially in comparison to last year when record spring warmth got everything off to a historically early start.

This year's weather, combined with cool soil temperatures, delayed many growers' abilities to get seed or transplant into the soil. But recent warmer temperatures and drier conditions have helped to dry out the fields and encourage more plowing and planting, more gradual growing conditions and bee pollination.

Crops that needed to be planted or transplanted had to wait until drier fields allowed farmers to get heavy machinery into their fields. Crops planted slightly later were met with warmer and drier growing conditions that have allowed them almost to catch up to a normal production schedule at this time, though unusual future weather could always have an effect upon the eventual harvest time. Cool night-time temperatures have created quality lettuces, greens and strawberries.

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, swiss chard, lettuces and herbs such as parsley, dill, coriander and cilantro have gone very well. Asparagus harvesting began in mid-April with excellent quality. Cabbage, pickles and turnip harvests began the end of May. Cucumbers and squash started at the beginning of June. Consumers always look for sweet corn and tomatoes by the Fourth of July, and with some slightly warmer-than-usual temperatures, both should be in season by then.

Chandler variety strawberries are being grown in increasing quantities by New Jersey growers to meet the strong demand for locally grown berries. The berries 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 began in mid-May, with the bulk of the crop harvested toward the end of the month. Because of the early-season start, volume is not expected to continue into 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 produced on about 7,500 acres of berries yielding about 49 million pounds last year -- fourth in the nation.

Yellow peach volume will start with the early cling varieties after the Fourth of July with fair volume by mid-month. The widely planted John Boy clingless varieties should start about the third week of July with good yellow volume expected by the end of July and running through early September. White peach volume begins with the White Lady variety in early August, running through mid-September. Approximately 150 peach producers grow on 8,000 acres of peaches in New Jersey. More than 40 peach shippers operated packinghouses last year that packed and marketed about 68 million pounds of quality peaches -- third in the nation.

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 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 big growth potential.

This season also will see another excellent and spirited Jersey Fresh marketing push. Due to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant, "Jersey Fresh" will be advertised on television for the first time in several seasons. It is hoped that these advertising expenditures will enhance the marketing efforts of the department.

The 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. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will again do its best to help the New Jersey produce industry enjoy a banner year.

(Bill Walker is with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.)

(For more on New Jersey's spring produce deal, see the May 30, 2011, issue of The Produce News.)