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CLAYTON, NJ -- New Jersey's spring and early summer weather have been cooperating nicely for producing exceptional fruit size and quality in peach and nectarine crops across the state. Hand thinning is in progress after bloom-time rain and cloudy weather reduced blossom load and fruit set.

peaches"That early natural thinning greatly helped fruit size, particularly in the early season crop," Santo John Maccherone, grower and chairman of the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council, said in a June 16 press release. "We expect yields to be 70 million pounds or better -- 2.8 million half-bushel boxes of excellent quality fruit to begin harvesting in late June." He also said that recent hot weather is infusing both white-flesh and yellow-flesh varieties with intense flavor.

Some of the major very early maturing peaches are Flamin Fury PF 1, Flamin Fury PF 5B and Sunbrite, followed by Sentry, Glenglo, Flamin Fury PF 7 and Summer Serenade -- all yellow-flesh, red-skinned peaches. Spring Snow and Lady Kim are the major very early white-flesh varieties. Sentry is expected to be ready for shipping the first week in July. "We expect to harvest and ship plenty of large peaches well into September," Mr. Maccherone said in the release.

Approximately 90 New Jersey producers grow on 6,600 acres of peaches and nectarines. Increasingly popular are white-flesh peaches and nectarines as well as Donut (flat) peaches. Each year, growers try new varieties to lengthen the season and improve size and quality, making the state's peaches available earlier and later, enabling produce managers to keep stores stocked well past Labor Day. The new early variety Desiree (NJ 350), developed at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, is extending New Jersey's growing season on the front end, helping growers better compete with southern growers. New Jersey is the fourth largest peach producer in the country, after California, South Carolina and Georgia.

"Our peaches are generally superb, plentiful and fresh picked through September," Jerome Frecon, the Rutgers Cooperative Extension peach specialist, said in the release. "We continually try to dispel retailers' misconceptions that after Labor Day, New Jersey peaches are 'old peaches,' not Jersey Fresh. One of the most important ways we have addressed this issue is through development and evaluation of new late-season varieties, with better color, flavor and handling characteristics that extend the season into late fall -- the end of September, sometimes October."

The New Jersey Peach Promotion Council produces a "Peach Buyers Guide" that outlines the extra effort growers and purveyors take to ensure the proper handling of quality New Jersey peaches. The 2011 "Peach Buyers Guide" contains all the information on the New Jersey peach industry for buyers and merchandisers. It lists all member growers, packinghouses, wholesalers and shippers. Growers and packers are centered mainly in Elmer, Glassboro, Bridgeton, Hammonton, Mullica Hill, Vineland, Swedesboro and Salem. Wholesalers are mainly in Newark, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Ontario and Quebec.

For further information and buyers guides, contact the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council information office at 856/307-6450, extension 1; or info@jerseypeaches.com.