John Galaida looking forward to good New Jersey blueberry season
Late winter 2021 and early spring 2022 saw a number of typical weather events, including cold temperatures, rains and wind, but as of the third week in May, John Galaida of Pleasantdale Farms was looking forward to a good season for New Jersey blueberries.
“Going into 2022, we saw more snowfall than we have normally, then we had some normal cold temperatures, and then moving toward spring, it seemed like the wind was an issue,” said Galaida, the company’s general manager. “We also had a lot of wet weather.” However, “As it turned out, it looks like the flowers took set, it looks like the crop seems to be normal in terms of volume, and we seemed to have fared pretty well through all of that.”
He summed it up this way: “We had all these things, we had some adverse conditions, and it looks like we managed to get through this.” And the berries themselves may be a little larger than usual. “Crop size seems to be about average volume, and usually when you end up with an average size crop volume-wise, you perhaps wind up with larger-than-average berries,” he explained.
Asked when those berries would start to get picked, Galaida replied, “We’re probably looking around June 14-15, give or take a day. That’s pretty normal for us. Right now we’re at the end of the pollination period. So far things look good.”
Hammonton, NJ-based Frank Donio Inc., a grower, shipper and distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables that is well known for its Top Crop brand, sources blueberries from all over the world, including New Jersey. Pleasantdale Farms is one of the main contributors to Donio’s Jersey blueberry program.
Pleasantdale Farms has a total of about 400 acres of blueberries: 300 acres in Hammonton, which it calls the home farm, and about 100 acres a few miles away in Mullica Township, which it calls the Nesco Farm.
About two-thirds of the blueberries at Pleasantdale Farms are Dukes, and about one-third is Bluecrop, but “we’re always looking at newer varieties,” he said.
Mid-May is the time when Galaida starts to hear from buyers about the upcoming New Jersey blueberry season. This year is no different, although inflation is on many people’s minds.
“One of the things that does come up because of the economic times right now is that people are wondering how things are going to come out price-wise. That seems to be a big question right now,” said Galaida. “I always tell people that we do the best we can to keep costs down, and we try to make things affordable. That being said, I can’t guarantee anything on prices. The only thing I can guarantee is that the Pleasantdale-Top Crop blueberries are probably going to be one of the best purchases they can make.”
As far as some of the costs that Galaida is seeing, “We see it in some of the parts for some of the machinery that we have, whether it’s field equipment or packinghouse equipment,” he said. Certain pieces that previously he would be able to get within a week to 10 days “could now be 30 days out,” he noted. “So we’re seeing that. Supplies in general are available, but it’s the lead time on them that’s really been affecting us.”
Galaida said that the labor situation “continuously has been a problem over the years,” with fewer and fewer people working on the farms. “So, we move more to mechanical harvesting. We have plans to mechanically harvest a bigger percentage of the crop. I can’t give you that exact number, but we now have five mechanical harvesters, up from three last season. And we will have a smaller group of people who do some hand-picking.”
In addition, “We’re looking at replacing a couple of sorters inside the packinghouse. And we now have a new sprayer that we’re using for the organic fields,” he said.
While the COVID-19 situation has improved on many fronts all over the country, Galaida said that the company is still being careful to keep all the employees as safe as possible. “Last year we went through COVID-19 using all the protocols, and we had no missed work days due to anyone getting COVID-19,” he stated. “So, we’re going to continue those same practices. COVID-19 is still out there.”
Galaida has been with Pleasantdale Farms for 19 years, and he is looking forward to this time of the year as much as ever.
“When we get to this point in time, we start to get more phone calls from people. It’s a good time of year,” he said. “To me it’s like it is for Christmas for a lot of people. I just really enjoy this time of year.”