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Good weather is bringing on sweet fruit at Sunny Valley

Phil Neary director of operations and grower relations for Sunny Valley International, headquartered in Glassboro, NJ, told The Produce News earlier this month that this year’s blueberry and peach crops are trending toward a more normal movement date.

“We had an extremely early start with New Jersey’s crops last year,” Mr. Neary said May 12. “This year we’ll be moving on a more normal time frame. Blueberries will start by mid-June, and peaches will start the second week of July.”

The past winter weather was perfect for both crops, said Mr. Neary, and there were plenty of dormant hours. “The crops are well enough along now for us to know that there was no frost injury,” he added. “We’ve had a favorable spring with good bloom. Now that we’re well into May, we are sure that we won’t have any frost issues.”

He continued, “The early bloom thinning on peaches went very well. Next week the final thinning will take place, which will get the crop size to precisely what growers want. There’s a real science and an art to this process.”

Sunny, warm days are helping the white peaches, yellow peaches and nectarines to size up nicely and to bring them to the peak of sweetness.

On blueberries, Mr. Neary said that some late-variety production will allow the crop to trickle into August.

“We’ll stretch into mid-August with blueberries this year,” he said. “It will be a small but a real deal on both conventional and organic product. This is a new trend that growers are working on in New Jersey, and we expect — with the strong blueberry demand today — that it will be good for everyone involved. Blueberries are such a strong selling product today that even the downed economy didn’t affect demand.”

Sunny Valley is packing conventional New Jersey blueberries in one-pint, 12-pack boxes, 18-ounce clamshells in 18 packs per box, two-pound clamshells packed 12 to a box and 2.75-pound clamshells packed eight to a pack. Mr. Neary said that the company may be experimenting with other packs throughout the season.

“Our organic blueberries are packed in 12 half-pint clamshells and one-pint clamshells,” he said. “We are seeing a growing trend toward more one-pint packs as organic production increases. It is increasing in New Jersey as well as around the world. Linier pricing is leveling off over time, although there is still a premium on organics. Once conventional and organics level off, we’ll probably see some production moving back to conventional. Blueberry yield is much lower on organics because of the insect pressure which reduces the size of the crop, so some growers would likely switch back to conventional.”

The company is projecting about 75,000 half-pint equivalents on organic New Jersey blueberries this year and 750,000 12-pint equivalents on conventional berries.

Mr. Neary said that New Jersey had very good weather during the blueberry pollination period this year. The bees worked as well as hoped, which means good sizing on the fruit.

Sunny Valley is working toward being a year-round supplier of blueberries. It imports from Chile and Argentina during the fall and winter. Chile runs from late fall into spring, and Argentina runs in the fall and early winter. The company currently has only a small gap between programs. It has blueberries from May through the following March, and somewhat into April.

“Our goal is to have blueberries available year round and to have domestic peaches from mid-May to the end of September,” concluded Mr. Neary.