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D’Ottavio commits to major blueberry program

VINELAND, NJ — M. D’Ottavio Produce Inc., a grower-shipper headquartered here in the heart of New Jersey’s fresh produce area and well known for its extensive line of fresh vegetables, announced that it has committed to a strong, full-fledged program of Jersey Fresh blueberries.

“Since 1903, our farm has exclusively grown vegetables, but starting this fall, we are very excited to be implementing our first planting of blueberries,” company President Michael D’Ottavio told The Produce News. “We have 36,000 one-gallon plants ordered for the 2013 fall planting. Those bushes will be put on the old homestead side of the farm. For spring of 2014, we have another 40,000 plants ordered, and that will complete that side of the farm. In total, this will be a three-year planting program that will total over 200,000 bushes.”

Dottavio194Michael D’Ottavio, president of M. D’Ottavio Inc., stood in one of the company’s fields in mid-May, which was being prepared for planting this fall with its newest crop: fresh blueberries. (Photo by Gordon M. Hochberg)The goal at the end of three years is to utilize between 100 and 115 acres in Vineland for blueberries, one of the Garden State’s very popular summertime items.

Excavating started May 2, creating drainage ditches and filling in low spots throughout the farm. By pushing trees back and trimming branches, the company opened more room for planting.

“We teamed up with an excellent grower in Oregon that has worked very closely with us to implement a program of trial bushes to find out if some new varieties will flourish in our climate and soil,” D’Ottavio said.

“Our goal is to find a firmer berry that has good size and longer shelf life. Also, we are striving to find a berry that is more acceptable to machine picking if needed.” This variety would replace the Bluecrop variety, which is currently grown throughout South Jersey, he noted.

The company is working with Lee Rain Inc., an irrigation specialist also in Vineland, to install a state-of-the-art watering system called Nature’s Eye. “This system is the newest Going Green System available today,” said D’Ottavio. “It’s capable of 30-50 percent less water usage per year than previous irrigation systems.”

That system works by using multiple monitoring devices throughout the field to send a signal to a satellite that returns the information to the irrigation pump that the plant needs water and feed, he explained.

The pump runs only when it needs to. “That allows us to save on fuel consumption and little to no waste of water,” he said. “Early testing of this program shows a 25-40 percent increase in yields.”

He continued, “Helping the environment by saving water and fuel is our goal, along with growing varieties that can be machine-picked that help our ongoing labor issues throughout our country. This will not happen overnight, but in time we can make a difference.”

Blueberries are already “a big percentage” of the company’s sales, said D’Ottavio. “I’m familiar with the product, and they are very popular with consumers.”

Nevertheless, he termed this venture into actually growing blueberries “a significant diversification for the company.”

He declared with pride in his voice, “This has been a dream of mine for over 10 years.”