Demand for peaches and other tree fruit in New Jersey remains strong this year with growers gradually increasing acreage and diversifying marketing strategies.

Bob Von Rohr, director of marketing and customer relations for Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J., which markets about 1 million peaches a year, is the largest marketing agent for Jersey Fruit brand peaches.

“Overall, the season looks good so far. There was a good winter, plenty of chill hours, plenty of moisture and the trees are in bloom,” he said.

Von Rohr noted the season for white peaches begins in mid-July and ends in September, and nectarines run mid-July through early September.

He touted the half-bushel case, a 25-pound volume-filled box of two layers, hand-packed, as the most popular. The company also offers 30-pound volume-filled boxes and 4-pound gift boxes.

“It reminds me of a quick grab-and-go, like a clementine box,” Von Rohr said of the gift box. “It (amounts to) about 10 peaches in a box.”

Clamshell peaches will also be offered this year for the first time. Von Rohr stressed that value and convenience are high on consumers’ minds.

“There are a lot of issues for people looking for more value: grab-and-go, or smaller size peaches, quarter-inch or half-inch that can be put out,” he said. “The majority of retailers are looking for 2½ -and 2¾-inch peaches. As the season progresses, people want that large peach that has a little bit of a premium, so we can put that smaller peach into the value clamshell.”

Jerry Frecon, agricultural agent specializing in fruit science with Rutgers Cooperative Extension, New Brunswick, N.J., said the moist spring has helped contribute to rapid and plentiful growth of peach fruits.

“Peach fruits go through a two-phase growth curve,” he said. “The first phase is cell division, when young, rapidly dividing peach cells need moisture and nutrients.”
Frecon said rainfall is allowing the peach season to stay on schedule and the first fruit of the sentry variety should be available after July 4.

“Our peaches are growing rapidly with all of the rainfall we have been having,” he said. “The moisture has been a blessing in many ways, because most of our fertilizer has been applied, all of our peach orchards have been pruned and many have actually had their flowers thinned off to accelerate fruit size for the remaining blossoms that developed into little peaches.”
Frecon added that the cost of producing peaches is higher with higher input costs, but labor has remained abundant.

Von Rohr said one niche market for New Jersey peaches that is catching on are “ready to eat” peaches.

The 2¾- to 3-inch peaches are picked at a high maturity level and hand-placed into two layers of boxes. Extreme care in packing is necessary to protect against the chance of bruising, which is more likely at higher maturity.

“Peaches are all picked at a high maturity level, and we’ve even done some special packs where we pick them at full maturity,” he said. “The fruit is left to hang on the trees even longer than normal, and there was one year where they even hand-picked them right from the tree to the box, which is labor-intensive.”

Von Rohr said the larger size does not mean better taste. Nonetheless, consumers enjoy the mature fruit.

“If we have a lot out there that we feel can sit on the tree a little bit longer, we pick those a lot more carefully and pack those carefully for advance-orders only,” he said.

Von Rohr said last year’s pilot program was successful and the company will be offering the program again to limited retailers this year.