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A very good season for New Jersey blueberries

HAMMONTON, NJ — The 2017 New Jersey blueberry season was just short of being two-thirds completed as of the second week in July, but grower-shippers here were already calling it one of the better seasons in a long time.

"The season so far has gone extremely well," Tim Wetherbee, sales manager at Diamond Blueberry Inc., told The Produce News Tuesday, July 11. "Supplies have been good, quality has been excellent, size has been very good, and the weather has been extremely cooperative."BluesCrop4696New Jersey blueberries on a packingline in mid-July. Photos by Gordon M. Hochberg

The 2017 season got off to a slightly earlier-than-normal start, thanks in part to a generally mild winter. As such, he estimated that "we're about 65 percent through the season." And "if the weather cooperates," the remaining 35 percent "should go fairly well," added Wetherbee, who is chairman of the New Jersey Blueberry Industry Advisory Council.

The end point of the 2017 season will be "probably the first week in August," he stated. "That should be pretty much the end of the harvest, give or take a couple of days." If that scenario holds, it would be "a week or so earlier than normal," he added.

Perhaps most important, pricing has been "very good," he declared. "There was a lot of interest, especially for the Fourth of July. That was extremely good — better than normal, I think."

Because the season has gone so well, more New Jersey blueberries are going to the fresh market and fewer to processing than usual. In a normal or average year, about 80 percent of Jersey blues go to the fresh market, and about 20 percent go to processors, according to Wetherbee. But looking ahead to the end of the 2017 season, he said that "close to 90 percent" could go to the fresh market this year, "but it all depends on the weather from now until the end."BluesCrop4700Tim Wetherbee of Diamond Blueberry Inc. looked at some New Jersey blueberries in mid-July.

Other key New Jersey blueberry experts also liked what they were seeing so far.

John Galaida, general manager of Pleasantdale Farms, which is one of the main contributors to Frank Donio Inc.'s New Jersey blueberry program, said that the crop was "not a bumper crop, but over all, the crop is slightly larger in volume than last year."

He added, "Demand has been really strong, and quality has been excellent. Large berries seem to be common."

Thanks in part to "shortages in neighboring states, pricing has held up," he noted. In summary, he said that 2017 "was looking to be one of the better years over all in the last 10 years."

"It's been an unprecedented season," said Tom Consalo, vice president of The Freshwave, which is the sole marketer of all products grown by Consalo Family Farms. "We've had good, solid supplies, and demand has focused on New Jersey."

He added, "Pricing has been very steady and very solid. It's been a very good market."

As to the balance of the season, "I don't see any change in the rest of the season," Consalo said. "This area certainly needed it after the last few years."

He concluded, "I've never seen a season like this, and I don't know if I'll ever see one like this one again."

Art Galletta, president of Atlantic Blueberry Co., said that "quality has been really good," and "pricing has been very strong."

He added, "Demand in the first four weeks [of the season] exceeded the supplies, and now with Michigan and the West Coast [starting to ship], demand should get back to normal."

He concluded, "I think that looking at the numbers, New Jersey is a little lighter in volume than last year. We would have liked to have a little more volume to take advantage of the high pricing. But over all, I think that the state of New Jersey is pretty happy."