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Diamond’s Tim Wetherbee sees good volume and quality ahead

HAMMONTON, NJ — As probably everyone knows, the winter of 2013-14 was long, harsh and extremely cold in most sections of the eastern United States, including New Jersey.

So when at the end of May The Produce News visited Tim Wetherbee, sales manager at Diamond Blueberry Inc., here, to discuss the upcoming New Jersey blueberry season, his first comments spoke directly to that issue: “We came through the winter pretty well,” he declared.

NJblues1151Tim Wetherbee, sales manager at Diamond Blueberry Inc. in Hammonton, NJ, examined some Duke variety blueberries on May 28. Regarding the statewide blueberry picture, Wetherbee said that New Jersey produced about 65 million pounds last year. For the upcoming season, “I would estimate about 60 million pounds,” he told The Produce News Wednesday, May 28. “It could be a little more, but it’s too soon to tell.”

Wetherbee said that berry sizing was “taking place now, but it looks pretty good. We’ve had favorable weather, for the most part.”

As to timing of the state’s 2014 blueberry crop, “We’re looking about the week of the 22nd [of June] for the first serious business,” he said. “There might be a few Weymouths a few days before.” He expected “good volume the following two weeks,” so retailers and consumers should be seeing plenty of product for the Fourth of July holiday. “It should be ideal for July 4 promotions,” he said.

As for his own company, which is the sales agent for Variety Farms and Bridge Avenue Farms, Wetherbee said, “Last year I had about 10 million pounds. That was 70 percent fresh and the balance processed due to adverse weather conditions and a lack of labor.” Looking to the upcoming season, he said, “I should do just as well this year,” but he cautioned that “labor is still a key issue.” As he put it, “You don’t know whether there will be enough hands available.”

Once New Jersey blueberries get underway, they will benefit from a promotional program fairly similar to last year’s program.

Radio spots will begin around June 23 and run through most of July, according to Wetherbee, who is chairman of the New Jersey Blueberry Industry Advisory Council. These spots will run in New Jersey, metropolitan New York, Long Island, Boston and parts of Pennsylvania, he noted. Trade advertising is also part of the program, as usual.

Blueberries from southern sections of the United States — Florida, Georgia and North Carolina — have been good so far this season, “and should lead pretty smoothly into the start of the Jersey deal,” he concluded.