(June 10) It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s…the sun?

A damp and dreary spring should lead to an increase in Northeast peach production of about 15% from last year, as the sun finally appears in the region and summer approaches.

“There’s this bright orange light outside today, and I can’t tell what it is. Hopefully somebody will figure it out before the day is over,” said Dennis Donio, president of Frank Donio Inc., Hammonton, N.J., on June 9.

His state saw an extra inch of rainfall above the norm and felt average temperatures 3½ degrees cooler than normal in May, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

What the excessive rain has done, aside from leaving growers miffed, is beef up this year’s crop in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Estimated production is 70 million pounds in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, up from 60 million and 62 million a year ago, respectively, according to the National Peach Council.

This year’s estimates, while up from last year, when spring frosts damaged crops, is still down slightly from the three-year high of 75 million pounds in both states in 2001.

Michigan production is expected to be way up from last year’s frostbitten crop. The peach council estimates 48 million pounds will be produced, up from just 14 million last year.

Despite expected production being up, it’s still too early to predict prices for the Northeast peaches.

In early June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that f.o.b.s for two-layer tray pack cartons of peaches from the San Joaquin Valley were mostly $14 for 48-50s and mostly $12 for 54-56s, up from last year’s prices of $12 and $10, respectively.

Half-bushel cartons of yellow-flesh Georgia peaches — including juneprince, harvester and summerprince varieties — were getting f.o.b.s of mostly $14.25 for 2½ inches and up and mostly $8.25-9.25 for 2¼ to 2½.

Growers expect early varieties of the peaches from the Northeast to be available at the beginning of July, with the fruit reaching heavier volumes later that month.

While the weather may have put off harvest by a week, growers said it hasn’t hurt the crop. In fact, many growers think it’s helped them.

“There has been plenty of moisture, and it’s really helped us. The rain is going to help with sizing. This is the largest crop we’ve had in a long time, maybe 10 to 15 years,” said Steven Smith, grower for Hammonton-based J R L Inc.

He said he expects to harvest July 10-15 and reach peak season in early August.

John Rice, sales manager for Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa., said he thinks the conditions will prove favorable. He said he expects this crop to be at least as big as last year’s.

“Everything looks good so far. Because of all of the water in the ground, we anticipate sizes larger than the past two years,” said Rice, who expects to start shipping July 25 and hit his peak in the last two weeks of August.

The Michigan Agricultural Statistics Service reported in early June that the state’s peach set appears to be excellent across the state. Norm Klein, sales manager for Jack Brown Produce Inc., Sparta, Mich., expects his crop to be up slightly from last year.

Walt Vander Wall, of Lake Michigan Growers Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., said he hasn’t seen any problems. While they have had a few frosts, he said none have affected the peaches. He said the company will start harvesting in early September and reach its peak toward the end of October.

Competition from California should be fierce, as always, said Charles Walker, managing director of the peach council. With the state’s highest volume variety, the elegant lady, beginning shipments June 24, there will be some overlap with Northeast growers.

“Once the elegant ladies start shipping, it’s going to be wall-to-wall peaches. Unless you’re shipping in September, it’s always going to be heavy competition,” Walker said.

Despite making things gloomy, the abnormally wet spring may prove to help the Northeastern peaches compete when harvesting starts early next month.

“It’s been great peach weather. It hasn’t been good for my tomatoes, but I guess some good will come out of this,” Donio said.