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NJ peach growers expect large crop in 2017

Other than a mild February, which forced apricots and some plum varieties to bloom early, most New Jersey peaches experienced a cool and relatively normal winter, with growers expecting a large crop in 2017.

"While our peaches and nectarines bloomed about 10 days early, we have not had sub-freezing temperatures to injure peach flowers and fruit," said Santo John Maccherone, owner of Circle M Farms in Salem, NJ, chairman of the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council and president of the New Jersey State Board of Agriculture. "My crop is mostly heavy except for a block of the late yellow-fleshed peach Jerseyqueen and some white-fleshed nectarine varieties."

Maccherone emphasized that crop development is running about 10 days earlier than 2016 and he expects to be picking and marketing his first peaches in late June.

"We have a full crop of fruit this year," said Tom Holtzhauser, operator of Holtzhauser Farms in Mullica Hill, NJ. "Last year we were badly hurt by spring temperatures and our crop was nonexistent."

Holtzhauser, a director of the NJPPC, sells a wide variety of white- and yellow-fleshed peaches, and flat peaches, both retail at his farm market and wholesale to various restaurants and farm market buyers.

"Most growers in southern New Jersey have started to thin off their heavy crop at this time," said Jerry Frecon, technical and horticultural consultant to the NJPPC, professor emeritus at Rutgers University and a retired peach specialist. "A few growers were brave enough to even thin blossoms with mechanical and string thinners. Brave because there is always a high probability of low temperature injury during bloom, so thinning at this time can be very risky."

Frecon said most growers are thinning off small fruit by hand and with mechanical aids.

Recent statistics published by the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council estimate that New Jersey growers are producing about 5,500 acres of peaches and nectarines and should harvest between 55 million and 60 million pounds of fruit in 2017.

"We are always optimistic at this time of the year," said Maccherone, "but we still have a long way until we pick and market the fruit, and lots of things can happen."