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2013 New Jersey blueberry season expected to produce the pick of the crop

An average winter season that provided the necessary “chilling hours,” combined with a normal spring and an abundance of cooperative honeybees, is pointing to a great 2013 blueberry harvest in the Garden State.

A slightly drier-than-normal spring has allowed blueberry farmers the luxury of providing the perfect amount of irrigation, which will translate into large, superior berries. New Jersey experienced normal spring conditions, which are expected to enhance the quality of the blueberries. 007New Jersey blueberry growers are gearing up to embark upon the 10-week harvesting season. (Photos courtesy of NJDA)Unlike the past several springs, where temperatures have soared, this spring’s conditions allowed New Jersey’s blueberries to mature at a slower rate, which will translate into a larger blueberry that will burst with flavor.

New Jersey growers are gearing up to embark upon the 10-week harvesting season. All growers said they expect a full crop, and are looking forward to begin the harvest. Growers throughout the Hammonton area predict that volumes will start to hit the market around June 17.

Tim Wetherbee, sales manager for Diamond Blueberries Inc., shared that his growers reported near normal timing with the possibility of the harvest beginning one to two days later than last year.

“The initial mild weather experienced by most of Southern New Jersey this past spring helped the plants mature in a normal manner,” said Wetherbee. “Our farmers have been actively irrigating, and we are expecting a crop of large, high-quality berries.”

Wetherbee said that the consensus in the Hammonton area is that harvest of the Duke variety will begin sometime during the week of June 17. Those growing the Weymouths might begin harvesting a couple days earlier; however, those berries will be in limited volume.

Art Galletta, co-owner and sales manager of Atlantic Blueberry Co. — one of New Jersey’s larger family-owned blueberry farms — concurred, and advised all buyers to keep in contact with suppliers for up-to-date information.

“We expect to match last year’s volume,” Galletta said. “The blueberries are maturing quite nicely, and our bushes got through the winter without any damage.”

Galletta predicted demand would be high for New Jersey blueberries, particularly along the Atlantic Seaboard.

“New Jersey blueberries have always had a premier reputation,” he said. “Judging from what we see in the fields, consumers will not be disappointed.”

General Manager of Sunny Valley International, Francisco Allende, who oversees the sales for Jersey Fruit blueberries, said great promotional opportunities exist for the 2013 season.

“The timing of the season combined with the outstanding quality that is appearing in the fields should provide the retail industry with great prospects in maintaining high demand and plenty of repeat customers looking for New Jersey blueberries,” Allende said. “I think anyone, whether they retail, buy, or consume blueberries, will be very satisfied with the New Jersey blueberry deal.

“Our goal for the 2013 blueberry season is to ensure our customers are receiving a product that is of consistent quality, grading and packaging. Our packingline is diverse enough to include pints, quarts and two-pound clamshell containers.”

Allende said that Sunny Valley maintains a weekly news email that is sent to its customer base, as well as anyone else interested in blueberries.

“Buyers and consumers alike take an active interest in what they consume,” said Allende. “As more people turn to locally grown products, the demand for information increases. This report gives readers a sense of what is happening in the field. We include crop forecasts, weather conditions and actual pictures of the harvest.”

David Arena, president of Frank Donio Inc., said his customers are already exhibiting excitement for this season.

“Everyone looks forward to the beginning of the New Jersey blueberry season,” said Arena. “When it comes to blueberries, New Jersey really enjoys a prestigious reputation. Our growers are known for producing a consistent, high-quality product and that provides many marketing and promotional opportunities for retailers. I really think the market is going to be quite active this year.”

Arena, whose company packs under the “Top Crop” label, said he has been in constant contact with his growers. While visiting individual farms, he was very encouraged with what he saw in the fields.

“The berries are sizing up very nicely, and there’s plenty of volume on the bushes,” he said. “I think retailers are going to enjoy the promotional opportunities this season will bring.”

In order to maintain consumer excitement for Jersey Fresh blueberries, the New Jersey Blueberry Industry Advisory Council will be promoting the state’s blueberries throughout the Eastern Seaboard.

Wetherbee, who serves as chairman of the council, announced that the group has organized an aggressive marketing campaign intended to create trade and consumer awareness and demand for New Jersey blueberries. Designed to complement the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Jersey Fresh advertising and promotional program, the council will use this highly successful brand image to benefit the promotion of blueberries to consumers long aware of Jersey Fresh.

“The Jersey Fresh blueberry promotional plan will be a multi-media advertising effort that will include trade print ads, retail point of purchase materials, radio advertising and consumer promotions,” said Wetherbee.

Wetherbee said the council has purchased space for blueberry ads, and the ads will appear in major trade publications throughout June and into July.

The council has worked with a media company to develop a 30-second radio commercial, which will alert listeners about the availability of Jersey Fresh blueberries. These ads will air in Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, and into New England. The ads are expected to begin the week of June 16 and will run throughout the entire month of July.

To help consumers identify New Jersey-grown blueberries, Jersey Fresh price cards have been developed and will be distributed through retail markets.

Jersey Fresh blueberries have a longstanding reputation for their high quality and taste and this season is expected to produce the pick of the crop.

Al Murray is the New Jersey assistant secretary of agriculture.