Johnson and other growers throughout South Jersey say that corn is ripening late but will be ready for tomorrow's Fourth of July picnics and barbecues.
Despite a cold, wet spring and a parched June, early varieties of the Garden State's favorite farm-grown products should arrive on time this month - or just a little late - at roadside stands and pick-your-own farms in the area, according to farmers in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties.
"We are late with corn," Johnson said. "Usually, we'll have corn by the 28th of June - well, usually between the 25th and the 28th - but it was cold after we planted this year, and that slowed things down."
Small ears of Spring White, the earliest and smallest variety of local sweet corn, should be ready about now, Johnson said.
Gloucester County corn growers such as David Duffield of Sewell - who invested roughly $300 an acre this spring to protect 16 acres with plastic - had ripe, ready corn at the end of June. The price was 30 cents an ear in the family's produce market on Greentree Road in Sewell, where Duffield sells all his corn and 31 other fruits and vegetables grown on his farm.
"We always have corn by the 15th of June," said Duffield. "We had to keep it under plastic longer than we ever did before because it was so cold this year. We usually take it off after close to 30 days, but this year it was more like 40 days."
Throughout this month, he and other corn growers will harvest the season's corn. The varieties bear names with a romantic ring: Spring White followed by Stardust, White Magic, Quick Silver, Pearl White, then the supersweet Snow Bell and, finally, the big, tassled ears of Silver Queen.
"Each variety gets larger," said Johnson, who has about 50 acres of corn, three acres of tomatoes, five of peaches, and some land set aside for peas, strawberries and pumpkins.
"Spring White is only about five inches long. People see it and wonder if it's really ripe. Well, it is," he said. "Each variety is a little bigger than the last - and they get sweeter. Snow Bell and Silver Queen, the ones everyone knows the best and waits for, have about 10-inch ears."
South Jersey produces about 100 million pounds of corn a year, and most of that is grown in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties, according to Leslie Miller, Camden County extension agent.
Most corn growers irrigate several times during the growing season. Duffield said that because of the dry weather, he would irrigate seven or eight times before harvesting the Silver Queen.
Early corn, grown under plastic, was bringing about $22 per hundred pounds wholesale, which Miller said was a typical early-season rate for corn..
There are 7,600 farms in the state, and they have about 850,000 acres under cultivation, according to the New Jersey Crop Reporting Service. About 1,470 of those farms are in Camden, Gloucester and Burlington Counties.
South Jersey farms produce the lion's share of some crops. Gloucester leads the state in peaches.
Tomatoes are right beside sweet corn in popularity. In Swedesboro, where Andy Redkoles' crop of 50,000 plants has weathered four frosts and searing June heat, the tomato picking began late last month.
"The fruit at the crown of the plant is just turning a tiny pink," Redkoles said. "The first thing you pick are the two or three or four tomatoes in the dead center of the plant. You can't pick them red if you're shipping them anywhere at all. They would be mush. Nothing. We're running a week late because of the weather, and our help just arrived for picking."
Redkoles, who said he was worried about the staying power of his 40 acres of tomatoes because his farm has no irrigation system, said his tomatoes would sell at local markets through the middle of the month. With half his fields planted in early tomatoes and half in late ones, he was hoping for a much- needed break in the weather.
"Other people are irrigating, but we aren't," he said late last month. ''It's awful dry right now. We really need a rain.
"Last year, a lot of people had problems with tomatoes because we got so much rain when they were ripe," he said. "The tomatoes got big, touched the ground and rotted or got diseases. Dry weather is a little better if you can irrigate or get just enough rain."
Duffield, who lost 50 to 75 percent of his tomato crop last year, estimates that he lost $10,000. It's too far from harvest time to predict the quality of this year's crop, he said. Tomatoes brought New Jersey farmers $14,906,000 last year, down from $15,754,000 in 1986.
Vine-ripened tomatoes will be ready in a few weeks at Dennis Donio's farm in Winslow Township. "You'll see Jersey tomatoes in the stores by early July," said Donio, who has 10 acres of tomatoes, "but before I see one of my own tomatoes in my salad it will be mid-July or later."
Because they have deep roots, tree crops such as peaches are faring better in the drought, said Camden County extension agent Miller. Early clingstone varieties such as Harbinger and Candor should be ready in late July, he said.
"They still should be irrigated six, then four, then two weeks before picking," he said, "but peach growers aren't getting hit by dry weather as hard as corn growers. Before you see Jersey peaches in the stores we'll be getting the Georgia ones."
New Jersey's 85 million pounds of peaches last year ranked fourth in the nation, and Gloucester County grew 55 million pounds, or 65 percent, of those peaches. The county is the seventh-largest peach producer in the country, ranking just behind peach-growing counties in South Carolina and California.
Gloucester County agricultural extension agent Jerry Frecon said the state is expected to produce 105 million pounds of peaches this year, 20 million more than last year. A cold winter in 1987 affected peach blossoms and diminished last year's crop, he said. Peaches brought the state $17,284,000 last year, according to the crop-report service.
Dry weather makes sweeter fruit, said Donio, who has 150 acres of peach trees.
"If it stays on the dry side, it looks like they'll have excellent quality and good taste," said Donio. "The sugar content is higher when the weather is dry. We'd rather irrigate than have lots of rain for the peaches. We have the water and the equipment, and we're not afraid to work. Using a lot of water may make the price a little higher, but that depends on the market."
Apples, the area's other major tree crop, will be ready for picking in September. Apple growing is strong in Gloucester County, which produces about 60 percent of New Jersey's 2 billion bushels of apples a year, Frecon said.
"This is also a very good year for cherries," Frecon said. "We (Gloucester County farmers) only have about 50 acres in cherries and it's mostly pick-your-own. Usually it's too wet and humid around here for cherries. The fruit cracks, but because it's been so dry this year, there's been very little cracking and very little disease."
"Blueberries look good, too," he said. "They're just ripe now."
This year, the weather conditions have been extreme. Frosts, hail and cold threatened young plants in April and May. June brought record high temperatures, dry soil and round-the-clock irrigation - by those who could afford it.
"You're always at the whim of the weather," said Miller. "It's dry right now. We could all of a sudden switch around and have a rainy period.
"There's a saying that goes, 'Dry weather scares you to death and wet weather starves you to death.' You're scared in dry weather because things might not make it. In wet weather, you could take a bumper crop to market and get really low prices, so you starve."
Dry weather is an expensive proposition, one that may not be repaid when a crop is sold.
"Sweet corn makes the biggest demand for water in weather like this," Miller said on a blistering afternoon in late June. "In dry weather like this, corn needs about a quarter of an inch of water a day. That's about 9,000 gallons an acre."
Exact costs vary from farm to farm. Each irrigation costs an estimated $35 to $50 per acre, according to Miller.
"With temperatures over 95 degrees and wind like we've had, it takes a lot of water. The corn growers are really feeling the strain," he added.
At John Rigolizzo's farm in Berlin, Rigolizzo and his employees were irrigating 150 to 200 acres of corn on a nearly continual basis, a family member said.
"They're so busy irrigating, they're literally working day and night," she said. "With the weather being so hot and so humid and also so dry, they're under a lot of pressure and are very fatigued."
Irrigating can cost $200 to $500 an acre annually for peaches and $300 to $400 an acre each year for corn, according to Frecon.
Joseph Conte of Tabernacle said he planned to irrigate his corn at night to save water. "It's too windy during the day, and you lose a lot to evaporation," he said.
Conte uses irrigation guns that shoot streams of water high in the air, spraying moisture across a wide area. The guns are mounted on "travelers" that can be set to move automatically on a track across a field.
"The question is, will it be worth it? If the price is low for corn in the markets, you may not be able to recover what it costs to irrigate," he said.
Extreme heat, Miller said, also can "blast" the blossoms of later fruits and vegetable blossoms, sterilizing them.
"The fruit won't set," Miller said. "It won't grow. You're getting that problem now. Irrigating keeps things cool and may avoid that."
A brief hailstorm May 22 in Burlington County damaged Fred Moriuchi's peach and apple crops in Moorestown. For about seven minutes, Moriuchi said, pea- size hail blew across his farm, damaging 50 to 60 percent of his young crop.
"It was kind of freaky," he said. "It came across Bucks County and into Burlington County. It did seem to come up the Rancocas Creek with the tide. We're within a half-mile of the creek, and it was only farms near it that were affected."
The peaches then were tiny and green. "They weren't even as big as your fingernail," he said. "The fruit was hard, but the hail was harder."
Blemished fruit will not not sell in the grocery store and will not earn the top grades for peaches - U.S. Extra No. 1 and U.S. Fancy - Moriuchi said. He is hoping his fruit-grower cooperative will be successful in finding an alternative buyer.
Moriuchi plans to meet with his accountant to assess the hail's damage to his pocketbook.
"A lot of times you can find a group of people, like the Mennonites or someone, who want to buy good fruit in quantity for canning," he said. ''That's what we're looking for.
"If you don't meet the grade standards, you can't get a decent price (in the store). The consumer expects a perfect piece of fruit in the store. Image is everything."
The Midwest's drought will have little effect on South Jersey's fruits and vegetables, say farmers and extension agents, but how it will affect other farm products is unknown.
"We may get better prices for grain crops," said Ray Samulis, county agent for the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Burlington County. "The value of things like soybeans has increased, but that doesn't mean anything until the crop is harvested. Anything could happen before then.
"I heard a comment on television the other night, that farmers here were glad about the drought out west. That's not true," he said. "They're sympathetic. They know that our conditions here could change in a matter of weeks. Anyone could have a drought."
FARMS WHERE YOU CAN GO TO PICK WHAT THEY GROW
The freshest fruits and vegetables are usually the ones you pick yourself. South Jersey farms offer pick-your-own peaches, tomatoes, blueberries, squash, broccoli, fresh flowers and other summer produce.
This list, compiled by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, includes the area farms offering seasonal produce you can pick.
Blueberries, tomatoes and cherries are available now, according to extension agents. Peaches will be ripe for picking by middle or late July. Vegetables will come into season throughout this month.
Call ahead to be sure a crop is ready, to get directions, to make sure picking can be done on a particular day and to find out if you must provide your own containers.
M.W. Lindsay. Blueberries. 418 Pleasant Mills Rd., Hammonton. 561-2474.
A & D Farms. Blueberries. Rake Pond Road, New Lisbon. 894-4988, 894-4540.
Apple Hill Orchards, Peaches and apples. Crosswicks-Ellisdale Road, Allentown. 259-3742.
Bud Wells Blueberries. Route 70, Vincentown. 726-1116.
Conte Farm. Blueberries, snap beans, peaches, lima beans, broccoli, cauliflower and more. Flyatt and Carranza Roads, Tabernacle. 268-1010.
Edward Wells Farm. Blueberries. Retreat Road, Vincentown. 859-2662.
Four Winds Farm. Blueberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Pumpkins. Medford Lakes Road, Tabernacle. 268-9113.
Fred & III. Blueberries. Pemberton-Juliustown Road, Pemberton. 894-2198.
Gladwill Farms. Blueberries. Old Indian Mills Road and Route 206, Tabernacle. 859-3333 or 268-0004.
Giberson's Farm. Blueberries. New Road, Vincentown. 859-3634.
Johnson's Corner. Tomatoes, peaches, broccoli, cauliflower, flowers, pumpkins and gourds. Church and Hartford Roads, Medford. 654-5894.
Katona Farms. Tomatoes. 355 Ellisdale Rd., Crosswicks. 298-3342.
Lee Smith. Blueberries. Juliustown Road, Pemberton. 894-8822.
Lynch Blueberry Farm. Blueberries. New Lisbon-Four Mile Road, Pemberton. 894-9611 or 894-2987.
North Branch Blueberry Farm. Route 70, Browns Mills. 893-5693.
Millpond Blueberry Farms. Jones Mill Road, Chatsworth. 726-1489 or 726-1077.
Mr. McGregor's Farm. Raspberries, flowers, lima beans, snap beans, more. Route 537, Jobstown. 723-1200.
Orchard Lane Farm. Peaches, apples and raspberries. Extonville Road, Chesterfield. 259-3684.
Piper Blueberry Farm. Magnolia Road, Pemberton. 894-9227.
Reeves Blueberry Farm. Sheep Pen Hill Road, New Lisbon. 894-2171.
RiverSide Homestead Farm. Apples, tomatoes, peaches and more. Taylor's Lane, Cinnaminson.
Russell Grover's Farm. Blueberries. 51 New Lisbon-Magnolia Road, Pemberton. 894-8171.
Sheep Pen Hill Farm. Blueberries. Sheep Pen Hill Road, Pemberton. 894-8630.
Springville Orchard. Apples. Hartford Road, Mount Laurel. 235-1288.
Strawberry Hill Farm. Peaches, nectarines and apples. Ellisdale and Waln Roads, Chesterfield. 298-0823.
The Sharp Farm. Blueberries. Pemberton-Browns Mills Road, Pemberton. 894-8152.
Warren Ash. Blueberries. 200 Magnolia Rd., Pemberton. 894-2428.
Springdale Farms. String beans, pole lima beans and flowers. 1638 Springdale Rd., Cherry Hill. 424-1743.
Cali Farms. Eggplant, turnip greens, peppers, snap beans, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, collards and more. Asbury Station Road, Repaupo. 467-0568.
Fruitwood Orchards. Apples, peaches, raspberries and sour cherries. Route 538, Hardingville. 881-7748.
Mood's Farm Market. Apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, grapes, pears, plums and more. Route 77, Mullica Hill. 478-2500.
Nichols Orchards. Peaches and apples. Royal Avenue, Franklinville. 694-3482.
Patane's Farm. Tomatoes, peppers, turnip greens, watermelons, eggplant,
cantaloupe and more. 100 Democrat Rd., Gibbstown. 423-2726.
Tuck-A-Lou Farms. Peaches, apples, blueberries, greens, blackberries and raspberries. Routes 538 and 619, Hardingville. 881-0393 or 881-0582.
U-Pick. Peaches, apples, snap beans, okra, black-eyed peas. Routes 45 and 538, Mullica Hill. 478-2864.
DeWolf's Farm. Peaches, tomatoes, snap beans, blackberries, currants and more. Colliers Mill Road, New Egypt. 758-2424.
Hallock's U-Pick Farm. Tomatoes, lima and butter beans, black-eyed peas and field peas, onions and more. Fischer's Road, New Egypt. 758-8847.
Russ Friedrich. Peaches. West Millstream Road, New Egypt. 758-8298.
Emery's Blueberries. Long Swamp Road, New Egypt. 758-8514.