One of the wettest summers recorded in New Jersey may have a bright and shiny side for South Jersey farmers: apples galore.
However, the pumpkin crop is expected to be smaller than normal - in size and quantity - due to wet fields keeping farmers out of the fields to plant on schedule.
Fall begins Sunday at 4:44 p.m. and, while fall-like weather has been around for much of the past few weeks, area farmers are seeing the effect of a summer with extreme rains in places, cooler than normal temperatures in other spots and even a few weeks of blistering summer heat.
But a cooler than average August means that apples will not only be plentiful, but brightly colored with good flavors.
The overall effects on crops may be highly localized because the summer deluges themselves were highly localized, said David Robinson, state climatologist and Rutgers University professor. For example, places in Camden County had summer rainfall of more than 28 inches in three months, but places in Cape May County only had summer rainfall of 15 inches - still 3 inches above normal.
What also was unusual, Robinson said, is the number of heavy rain events - where at least one weather station in New Jersey records at least 3 inches of rain. From June to September, there were 14 such events in the state, with several of those events containing rains of more than 6 inches, he said.
June was the wettest on record in Atlantic City, but July had slightly below average precipitation at the Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, according to National Weather Service records.
Southeastern New Jersey's weather stations were among the driest in the state, but the variations were significant. Western Atlantic County saw three times the rain, for example, that fell on the eastern portion of the county, according to the Office of the State Climatologist, which maintains weather stations throughout the state.
That variability means some farmers struggled much more than others, said Rick VanVranken, a Rutgers Cooperative Extension agent in Atlantic County. Summer crops in particular, VanVranken said, struggled. The tomato crop was much smaller and had a shorter season than usual due to the rain, and many pepper crops were almost completely destroyed due to sopping wet fields, he said.
As for the fall's local pumpkin crop? "The word on the street is pumpkins may be a little short in supply, but not significantly," VanVranken said. "It's anybody's guess as to where (farms) were and what type of weather they got this summer as to what the final outcome of the pumpkin crop will be."
Diane Rea, of Rea's Farm Market in West Cape May, said the pumpkins at her farm will be smaller than they typically are. Rea's workers could not plant the pumpkin seeds until a little later than normal due to heavy rains in June. Then as soon as the weather dried up, several weeks of intense heat in July damaged the seedlings.
"That hurt to the point that we don't have the real big pumpkins we usually have. We have pumpkins, but not the large size variety," Rea said.
On the other hand, apples at William Boerner's Mays Landing orchard not only have strong colors, but they will be plentiful and large.
"It's a full crop too," Boerner said. "I was afraid maybe there would be a lot of small apples because the crop was so large, but in the last couple weeks they've gotten to be a good size."
Overall temperature-wise, the summer still will go down in a statewide average as the 12th warmest on record, which goes back 119 years, Robinson said. However, that warmth may not register with most because August was 2.4 degrees below normal at Atlantic City.
"Compared to many summers in the last decade, this summer was a little bit cooler," Robinson said. "That was thanks to an August that was almost as cool as June and, in between those, was the fifth-warmest July on record."
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