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Pleasantdale Farms sees good season ahead, adds some acreage

HAMMONTON, NJ — The 2011 New Jersey blueberry season was getting ready to begin when John Galaida, general manager of Pleasantdale Farms, spoke to The Produce News the first day of June. “You see a few berries starting to turn blue,” he said.

Frank Donio Inc., a grower, shipper and distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables, sources blueberries from all over the world, including New Jersey. One of the main contributors to Donio’s Jersey blueberry program is Pleasantdale Farms, which has about 200 acres here in Hammonton, which it calls the home farm, and about 100 acres a few miles away in Mullica Township, which it calls the Nesco Farm.

It has slightly more acreage this season. “We purchased a neighboring small farm [of] about 25 acres” around March 1, said Mr. Galaida. Five of those acres grow the Weymouth variety, an early berry, and the remaining 20 acres grow the Bluecrop variety. The new acreage borders the home farm.

Asked about volume for the upcoming season, Mr. Galaida said he was “looking at a better-than-average year. Last year some berries didn’t size up.”

This year, however, “Size looks very good,” he stated. “They seem to be uniform, large berries. The winter was fairly mild for us, with an excellent pollination period. The only real issue would be the stink bug.”

As to when he thought the season would start, he said, “We look to start around June 13” with the Duke variety. “That’s probably our first day.” The Bluecrop “generally [starts] a week to 10 days after that.”

As in past seasons, Pleasantdale Farms will offer a full range of sizes: 18-ounces, quarts, two-pounders, 2.75-pounders, five-pounds, even 30-pound boxes. And while pints are traditionally the most popular with consumers, the two-pound containers “seem to be real popular,” he stated. “They seem to be a big mover, especially with the warehouse-type stores.”

Demand for the popular fruit continues to be strong. “The health benefits are well known by consumers,” he said. But in addition, “There’s more product where you’re seeing blueberries being used.”

As June began, Mr. Galaida was seeing more and more interest from customers as to when the Jersey blues would be starting — a somewhat typical situation at this time of the year. “A lot of people are calling. They want to know when the first ones are coming in — and are they the sweet ones?” he quipped.

From the fall through the winter, Pleasantdale performs routine maintenance on its fields, like most growers do.

Over this past fall and winter, Pleasantdale Farms converted about 30 acres from overhead irrigation to drip irrigation, so that as it begins the 2011 season, said Mr. Galaida, “about 90 percent of the total acreage is now under drip irrigation.”