New Jersey peaches were being picked as early as June 18, according to Pegi Adam, communication consulting director for the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council in Clayton, NJ. “Our normal start date is around July 10, so we are running about three weeks early,” said Ms. Adam. “So far the quality looks very good, and we anticipate no problems. The major growers have their full complement of fruit moving into the packinghouses this week.”
She added that thelate-season peaches should carry the state’s movement through mid-September.
New Jersey ranks fourth nationally in peach production, averaging between 60 million pounds and 66 million pounds each year. California is the largest producer, followed by South Carolina and then Georgia.
“These placements are according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual crop reports,” said Ms. Adam. “In some years, Georgia falls in the number four slot and New Jersey gets pumped to number three — so we’re very close in production numbers.”
New Jersey’s wholesale peach production value, also from the USDA, is between $30 million and $35 million. The USDA lists New Jersey’s peach value at $5,625 per acre.
“We produce peaches on 5,500 acres in New Jersey,” said Ms. Adam. “The wholesale peach-production regions are mostly in the southernmost counties, but there are individual farms in the northern part of the state that do a major job.”
New Jersey peach growers produce over 100 different peach varieties, including yellow and cling, which are produced in both yellow and white, representing the earliest peaches. Freestone peaches, also in both yellow and white, nectarines, again in both yellow and white, and flat peaches round out the state’s production. The John Boy yellow freestone peach is among the more popular and has been around for many years. In the white category, the White Lady, a no-acid peach, is popular. The Arctic Star nectarine holds first place in its category.
In order for New Jersey peaches to carry the Jersey Fresh locally grown state-supported initiative, the fruit must be No. 1 grade and at least two-and-one-quarter inches in diameter. However, Ms. Adam pointed out that most retailers want two-and-three-quarter inch peaches because consumers prefer the larger sizes.
Ms. Adam is in the heart of New Jersey peach promotional programs this time of year. The council sponsors peach parties for restaurants, retailers, farm stands and markets that want to promote the state’s peaches to customers. Participants are allowed to develop their own event in ways that works best for them. A retail store, for example, can display banners and offer samplings, farm stands can organize events that include activities for participants and restaurants can create a menu that includes peaches.
One New Jersey restaurant, Gladstone Tavern in Gladstone, has created a menu in which every item includes peaches. The promotion is being held for one week in late July. Chef and owner Tom Carlin created his peach menu starting with cocktails like the frozen peach margarita, and then he moved on to appetizers, like chilled peach bisque. Main courses include grilled swordfish with peppered peaches and barbequed chicken paillard with spicy peach glaze. Desserts include the traditional peach melba ice cream.
Consumers are also learning about the many ways that peaches can be incorporated into their diets. Santo John Maccherone, president of the council and owner of Circle M Fruit Farms in Salem County, produces peaches, nectarines, apples and asparagus. The company also makes peach cider, peach salsa and peach preserves. Ms. Adam said that Circle M makes limited quantities of the cider every year and supermarkets grab it quickly.
“We have 30 peach party events planned so far this season,” said Ms. Adam. “And we continue to promote late-season peaches. When Jersey peaches first come on, retailers tell us that their customers are waiting for them. But we continually struggle with how people’s mentality quickly changes when school starts in the fall. People’s mindsets switch to apples and peach sales drop quickly and dramatically. But one of our major retailers told us that September 1, when school sessions resume, apples aren’t really ready yet. This is one reason why we will hopefully get retailers to focus more on locally grown peaches beyond Labor Day.”