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John Galaida sees good crop of Jersey blueberries ahead

n hammonton, nj — It is a basic maxim that weather plays a vital role in agriculture. With that in mind, anyone who has an interest in the health and well-being of crops keeps an eye on the skies for any potential threats.

So it was that when The Produce News visited John Galaida, general manager of Pleasantdale Farms, the first thing he mentioned was the weather, specifically during the previous overnight period, when the forecast had called for rain, perhaps heavy in spots, with a possibility of hail.

“We were watching the weather last night,” he said Friday morning, May 26, at his office, here. “I was out in the fields early this morning, looking for any possible effects. But I didn’t see any damage.”

With a sigh of relief, the industry veteran turned to the topic at hand — the 2017 New Jersey blueberry season. “This winter was probably one of the mildest on record,” he said. “We went into spring and things looked good. Pollinating weather was not the best, but we had enough good days for the bees to do their job.”

Galaida has been in the blueberry industry for more than 38 years and has been general manager at Pleasantdale Farms since it was acquired by Frank Donio Inc. in 2002.

Hammonton-based Frank Donio Inc., a grower, shipper and distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables, sources blueberries from all over the world, including New Jersey. Pleasantdale Farms is one of the main contributors to Donio’s Jersey blueberry program.

Pleasantdale Farms has a total of about 400 acres of blueberries — 300 acres here in Hammonton, which it calls the home farm, and about 100 acres a few miles away in Mullica Township, which it calls the Nesco Farm.

As to this year’s berries at Pleasantdale Farms, he said, “In looking at the crop, I’d say we are looking at a better-than-average crop” volume-wise. “Berry size and quality look to be very good.”

Galaida expected the harvest to begin around June 10, give or take a day and looking at the projected weather. “I believe that by the 15th of June, we should be running at full capacity.”

Labor continues to be a concern for all blueberry growers in the Garden State and elsewhere. “It’s been a dwindling labor supply,” said Galaida. “We haven’t had any issues yet as far as a shortage is concerned, but it’s an ongoing problem.”

But as the new season approached, Galaida was hearing from retailers and other buyers who were looking for information on the upcoming Jersey blueberry season, and Galaida himself was anxious to get started.

“We’ve had phone calls, and everybody is asking if we’ve been hurt by any cold weather and when we expect to start,” he said. “And there’s always a few calls from some people wanting to know when we’ll have the really big blues.”