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2017 New Jersey produce outlook

The 2017 season is under way and should be highlighted by good quantities of high-quality produce.

Weather professionals say that 2016 was the warmest year on record for the third year in a row. A mild winter followed by a mild spring allowed many New Jersey farmers, especially those on heavier soils, to get their tilling and planting started early this season. Early warm weather and increasing soil temperatures hastened spring plant growth and allowed over-wintered and spring- planted produce to get off to an early start to the season.nj-tomatoes

Early-season bee pollination efforts were good also. Slowly warming spring temperatures created great growing conditions that ensured excellent product quality and extended the length of season for all of New Jersey’s spring products.

“Following a March with the first substantially below-average monthly temperature anomaly in New Jersey in over a year, April brought a return to record warmth last seen in February,” said New Jersey State Climatologist David Robinson of Rutgers University. “With a statewide average of 56 degrees, the month was 5.1 degrees above the 1981–2010 mean. This ranked as the warmest April since statewide records commenced in 1895. With the warmth of January, February and April hardly balanced by the colder March, this year is off to the fourth-warmest start on record.”

Bill Nardelli of Nardelli Lake View Farms in Cedarville, NJ, said the temperatures have played out well.

“The early season weather has been a challenge, but we’ve been seeing some cooler and more regular weather now that is creating wonderful growing conditions and helping to create excellent quality spring products,” Nardelli said.

“The slowly warming weather was great for maturing our early season crops and getting summer crops started,” said Wes Kline, a Rutgers University Agricultural Agent. “It’s shaping up to be a very good season.”

Over-wintered produce such as cilantro, spinach, leeks, parsley and kale had a good start to the season. We’re probably a week earlier than normal at this time of the Jersey Fresh produce season.

New Jersey enjoys the productivity of a great diversity of fruits and vegetables due to its moderate climate and inherent Jersey Fresh qualities. New Jersey's 11 principal fresh-market vegetables are tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, eggplant, escarole, snap beans and asparagus. The five principal fresh market fruits are strawberries, blueberries, peaches, apples and cranberries.

The early-season harvests of spinach, collards, beets, radishes, escarole, endive, Swiss chard, lettuces and herbs such as parsley, dill, coriander and cilantro have gone very well. Asparagus harvesting began in mid-April in excellent quality. Lettuces became available in late April. Cabbage, pickles and turnip harvests began toward the end of May. Cucumbers and squash will start in early June. Consumers always look for sweet corn and tomatoes by the Fourth of July and, with an early start to the season this year, both should be in sufficient volume by then.

Strawberries are being grown in increasing quantities to meet the strong demand for locally grown berries. They are grown in raised beds and under black plastic. They’re picked when ripe and have more red interior color, a large berry size, and an excellent taste. Early harvests began in early May, with the bulk of the crop harvested in the third and fourth weeks of the month.

Minor quantities of early blueberry varieties like Weymouth should be starting in early June. The much more widely planted Duke variety should start three to four days later, with volume available a week after that. In 2015, New Jersey produced about 9,100 acres of berries yielding about 48.6 million pounds.

Yellow peach volume should start with the early cling varieties in mid-July, with volume by late July. The widely planted John Boy clingless varieties should start by the end of July. Good yellow volume is expected by early August through early September. White peach volume begins with the White Lady variety in mid-August through early September. About 150 peach producers grew about 42.2 million pounds of quality peaches on 4,700 total peach acres, according to the last U.S. Department of Agriculture census.

New Jersey growers are also looking to satisfy the growing ethnic population of the state and the demand for Asian and other ethnic specialty produce, particularly melons, squashes, peppers and eggplants. There are also numerous field trials of these new ethnic varieties being grown by farmers and agricultural agents throughout the state. This area of production is thought to have a big growth potential.

This season will also see another excellent and spirited Jersey Fresh marketing effort. For the eighth summer in a row, the NJDA has secured funding that will allow Jersey Fresh to advertise on radio and in trade media. These funds also enable the program to hire a seasonal intern that will assist staff in visiting retailers to distribute excellent point-of-sale materials.

It is hoped that advertising expenditures will enhance the efforts of longtime staff from the Department's Bureau of Market Development and the Quality Grading program. Staff still disseminates a weekly “Jersey Fresh Forecast & Availability” email and will continue to maintain regular contact with buyers. The availability report is now also available on our website at The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will again do its best to help the New Jersey produce industry enjoy a banner year.

Bill Walker is with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.