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Eastern Shore crops earlier than normal this year

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Market Specialist, Butch Nottingham, told The Produce News that the Eastern Shore’s potato harvest would be earlier than normal this year.

“The Eastern Shore has enjoyed ideal weather, and it’s warmer than it was this time last year,” Nottingham said. “By June 20, all sheds will be running. Everyone up and down the East Coast seems to be running early, so we should all have our window.”

He added that fresh potato demand continues to be strong, and it is anticipated that it will remain strong, pointing out that storages are low in Ontario and Quebec this season.

“The Canadian demand is strong for fresh potatoes, so we expect demand to continue,” said Nottingham. “Reds, russets and yellows are produced in all regions of the Eastern Shore.”

The largest Russet grower on the Eastern Shore is Yaros Farms in Lower Northampton County. Dublin Farms in Horntown is one of Virginia’s biggest potato producers. Established in 1876, and still family operated, the company offers its white, red and yellow potatoes in a variety of packaging options. It ships 12 to 15 loads daily from late June through mid-August.

Most potatoes produced in Virginia are distributed throughout the Northeast when those areas are not producing. When the southern states stop producing, shipments are redirected there. Depending on market conditions, potatoes are also typically distributed in Canada. Nottingham stressed that the Eastern Shore potato crop looks to be excellent quality this year.

Although the VDACS focuses heavily on Eastern Shore potato crops, which tallies between 3,000 and 4,000 acres, with an estimated annual value of between $15 and $25 million, numerous other fresh produce items are grown in the Eastern Shore. Nottingham pointed out that there is significant acreage in tomatoes and green beans.

“Our largest green bean operation is C&E Farms in Cheriton,” said Nottingham. “Established in 1986, it is owned and operated by the Colson family, and is one of the largest green bean operations in the nation.”

C&E Farms also packs green beans in North Carolina. The company packs more than 750,000 bushels of beans annually. It grows from Florida to Pennsylvania, and has packing facilities in Cheriton and in Parrish, FL. C&E’s Red Barn label is recognized for high quality.

“C&E developed the hydro-cool green bean process,” said Nottingham. “The company has developed a consumer pack of unsnipped green beans in a bag similar to those used by the grape industry.”

Virginia’s three major tomato operations, Lipman Family Farms, Pacific Tomato Growers and Del Monte, are expected to produce about the same volumes of round, Roma, grape, cherry and heirloom tomatoes from late June through September.

“This will be Del Monte’s fourth year of production on the Eastern Shore,” said Nottingham. “In addition to tomatoes, its fresh-cut division handles melons.”

Eastern Shore fresh market crops are sold under the Virginia Grown local initiative.

“We partner with growers, retailers, green markets, you-pick farms and roadside stands with Virginia Grown,” he noted. “We offer point-of-purchase materials, run print ads and we work with the industry on advertising. One of our primary programs is a sales initiative with chain stores where we take buyers to the farms to meet growers.”

Virginia growers continue to rely on the expertise of the scientists at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Painter, VA.

“All aspects of vegetable crop production are represented at the Center, including a strong food-safety component,” Nottingham stressed. “We are fortunate to have such a great resource in the middle of our growing area.”