HAMMONTON — New Jersey peach farmers are reaping a bounty this summer with one of their largest crops.
New Jersey, which is the fourth-largest producer of peaches in the nation behind California, South Carolina and Georgia, is projected to produce between 55 million and 60 million pounds of peaches over 5,500 acres in 2017, according to the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council.
In 2015, farmers grew 42.2 million pounds on 4,700 acres valued at $27.6 million.
“Those growers that have the peaches, the weather was just right to get a full crop. It has been good weather throughout the production and now into the harvesting season,” said Rick VanVranken, agricultural agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County.
The peaches can be found at supermarkets, pick-your-own farms and especially at farmstands across the state.
Ron Fisher, of Ron’s Gardens in Hammonton, estimated he sells 6,000 peaches a week over a 10-week period at his farmstand at Frank S. Farley Service Plaza on the Atlantic City Expressway. Peaches, which he gets from Larchmont Farms in Upper Pittsgrove Township, are his second-biggest seller, after Jersey tomatoes.
“The people comment all the time that they can’t wait for them,” Fisher said.
The fruit is known for its fuzzy skin, juicy and tart flesh, and hard pit.
VanVranken said that because the different varieties of peaches ripen at different times, farmers can plant several varieties to harvest throughout the summer.
The first peach variety of New Jersey’s season is the Sentry. Throughout the season, farmers will grow Gala, Flavorcrest, Loring, Red Haven, John Boy, Crest Haven, Gloria, Jersey Queen and Fayette. The season ends with Encore and Laurol varieties.
Fisher said the thing that makes Jersey peaches such a hot commodity in the state is because they are ripened on the tree and not in storage.
“It’s not necessarily the state, it’s how they’re picked. They’re only grown 40 minutes from here, so they can pick them on the riper side,” Fisher said.
Farmers in New Jersey have been producing peaches for more than a century, VanVranken said. Most of the state’s peach farms are now in Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester counties, with just a few growers left in Atlantic County.
“Here in Atlantic County, crops seemed to have come in waves. The first big concentration was after the railroads came through in the 1850s and ’60s,” VanVranken said.
Many of the orchards were planted in Hammonton. The run on peaches there lasted through the early 2000s until several late frosts that spared orchards farther west, threatened production and income in the town.
“Right now, there’s only a couple of peach growers left in the county. Most of those grow for road-side stands,” VanVranken said.
He said retail stores also affected peach production, as they stop ordering peaches when school begins in exchange for apples.
But peaches are still bountiful throughout South Jersey and will be until September, when the harvest ends. The state Department of Agriculture’s Jersey Fresh website has listings of all the places in the state to buy Jersey peaches.