The blueberry harvest began at least 10 days sooner than normal, New Jersey officials said. About 95 percent of the state's blueberry acreage is in Burlington and Atlantic Counties.
In the Midwest, upper Midwest, New England, and Ontario, peach blossoms appeared in March, but many were later damaged by frost.
"They were blooming in Michigan, which is unheard of," said Jerry Frecon, agricultural agent with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension and director of Frecon Farms in Boyertown, Pa. "We were just lucky. The mid-Atlantic area has a good crop of fruit.
“What happens in Jersey happens in Pennsylvania," he added. "We're a tad bit earlier" in Jersey.
New Jersey is fourth for peach production in the nation, after California, South Carolina, and Georgia. Pennsylvania is fifth.
"Things are moving along and looking wonderful," said Johnson, who has finished harvesting strawberries and is picking peaches, blueberries, and cherries this week.
At Holtzhauser Farm in Mullica Hill, apricots will be brought in starting Friday or Saturday, followed by the peaches on Monday or Tuesday.
"We had to react quicker this year than normal," said farmer Tom Holtzhauser.
"We bloomed on March 23," he said. "That's 3½ weeks early for me."
Holtzhauser's family has owned the farm since 1831 and has had peaches since 1897. Thirty-four varieties are grown there on 144 acres.
"I've been working on the farm for 36 years, since I was 13," he said. "I've only seen peaches bloom one other time in March and still actually make a crop."
Is the early season good for New Jersey's 92 peach growers?
"I would say yes, particularly for people who sell locally and direct to consumers because it helps their cash flow," Frecon said. "It helps their roadside markets open early and creates a flow of customers."
Nature's stepped-up schedule does create some challenges.
"It changes the whole management program," Frecon said. "You could see more disease and insect pressure because of the mild winter."
In a normal year, most varieties of peaches would be picked by mid-September. "This year," Frecon said, "it could be early September, and the later varieties could be pressured by insects and disease."
The Rutgers Cooperative Extension monitors these problems and "can tell [farmers] when to spray, when to utilize pest management practices," Frecon said.
Acreage devoted to peaches has declined in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and across the country in recent years because many intermediate-size growers have dropped the crop.
"It's too difficult to sell to supermarkets," Frecon said. "They request stringent food safety programs, inventory management in the store, multi-store delivery, labeling, bar codes, and specific packaging.
“All of these services cost money and the smaller growers can't provide them," he said.
Still, last year, New Jersey produced $36.6 million worth of yellow- and white-fleshed peaches, flat (doughnut) peaches, and nectarines, federal statistics show. The value of the same crops in Pennsylvania was $23.4 million.
Successful farmers must overcome competition from growers in other states, insects, disease, and the whims of Mother Nature to get their product to market.
"We had one year, 1984, when there wasn't one piece of fruit" because of weather conditions, Holtzhauser said. "I have enough faith in God to get us through, though.
“He will give us a crop or he won't," the farmer said. "This year, it came early."
Contact Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or email@example.com.