New Jersey strawberries are ripe for the picking, earlier than usual. Dreyer Farms in Cranford, one of about 200 farms in the Garden State that grows strawberries, has workers picking the fruit two weeks earlier than usual.
“Having been in business so long, nothing is shocking anymore,” said Jessica Dreyer. “I mean it comes early, it comes late, we get floods, we get drought. It’s always something, every year. We were getting bored so I’m glad that it’s nice and early this year.”
Some experts say that a two-week early strawberry season is unusual and attribute the early season to the record breaking temperatures in New Jersey this winter and early spring.
“Initially all that warm weather in March caused our peaches to bloom a month early, a full four weeks early, and apples about three weeks early. So initially that warm weather in the early spring caused us a lot of concern with frost and freeze injury on both apples, peaches, cherries, tree fruit crops, blueberries and even strawberries,” said Win Cowgill, professor and county agricultural agent at Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
Dreyer Farms only lost a few buds to last month’s overnight freezing temperatures. Now pickers fill about 200 quarts of strawberries a day and so far demand is high.
The strawberry season only lasts about four weeks. The most recent figures indicate that New Jersey produced 1.4 million pounds of strawberries valued at $3 million. Most growers plant in early to mid-August and typically the strawberries are harvested anywhere between Memorial Day weekend and June 1. But Cowgill says this year, the early season hasn’t been welcomed by every farmer.
“Pick your own strawberry people are used to June 1. Two weeks early, you’ve gotta advertise and let them know that they’ve got to be out there two weeks early,” Cowgill said. “Some of the growers didn’t have their seasonal help in yet in order to be able to harvest the crop so that was a challenge, getting enough help to get things picked.”
Strawberries may not be the last fruit crop of the season to get a head start. Cowgill anticipates the state’s blueberries and peaches will also harvest earlier then expected.
NJ Today Correspondent Lauren Wanko reports from Cranford.