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July 14, 2017

In South Jersey, cool spring delays tomatoes and drives higher prices

Tomato Season
South Jersey tomato KEVIN C. SHELLY/PhillyVoice

Jersey farmstand tomatoes.

South Jersey’s iconic tomato is having a slow season so far. The crop is late. Yield down. Quality just so-so.

And prices are up.

Blame it on the weather.

A Viereck Farms worker explained the problem for the Swedesboro farm so far this season during the Westmont Farmers’ Market earlier this week: a cool spring slowed growth and a couple of very cold nights caused blossoms to drop, meaning fewer of the fruits.

That means less supply and higher prices from the Gloucester County producer, he added.

How much higher?

For now, the price is about a third higher at Pastore Orchards in Winslow Township, said market manager Bonnie Pastore. The typical price per pound should be about $1.99; it is currently $2.99, said Pastore, whose own farm's tomatoes are late.

The tomato season in Southern states was also off earlier this year, meaning short supplies and higher prices nationally, which in turn raises prices for New Jersey tomatoes, said Pastore

She worries that the recent blast of heat hammering South Jersey will slow ripening – tomatoes stop “coloring up” when it gets above 90 degrees – and heat and humidity can cause blossom rot, which again would cut yields, she said.

Pastore’s own tomato crop is about 10 days from being ready for picking.

Pastore Orchards for now is buying from Viereck, a farm that traditionally has early fruits of high quality.

“Even the seconds are more expensive,” despite the fact that the quality “isn’t there,” she conceded.

NoneKEVIN C. SHELLY//PHILLYVOICE

Even seconds tomatoes are scarce.


'JUST PRAY FOR THE WEATHER'

The early tomato season usually begins just after Independence Day in South Jersey and is usually in full-swing in a little more than another week. That isn't so this season.

In Salem County, DanLynn organic farm’s tomato crop is running a week late, but the Pedricktown farm’s crop is “plentiful” and the quality high.

“Just pray for the weather, no thunderstorms,” said Lynn Lenco.

Rose Robson, who farms in Wrightstown, Burlington County, said her tomatoes are late.

"There are a ton of gorgeous green fruit out there, but they remain green," she said. 

But she said the coming crop for her appears "heavy."

"The prices are high on tomatoes," she said. "I feel the market will stabilize once everyone starts having them."

Meanwhile, Bonnie Pastore is hopeful the season will come around, with greater abundance, lower prices and higher quality.

"If the weather is right, BANGO! Then there will be a glut,” she said, but that’s close to two weeks out – and depends on the weather.

And take heart: Jersey corn, blueberries and peaches seem to be having good seasons, though blueberries have now peaked out a bit early.

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