Farmer John Hurff’s great-grandfather knew more than a century ago that New Jersey provided the soils and climate to grow quality fruit.
In 1896, William Schober founded the family fruit farm, which today grows more than 12,000 peach, nectarine and apple trees in Monroeville. The family has witnessed significant change in its long-time endeavor, including a decline in the fruit processing and canning industry in New Jersey.
Today, fresh fruit drives the family’s business and much of New Jersey’s fruit sector. In fact, the farm supplies a greater demand than ever for its fresh, home-grown fruits, Hurff says.
“For the last five to 10 years, there has been a big push for local produce,” says Hurff, owner of Wm. Schober Sons Inc. “The demand has been there, both here at home and the markets we visit. Customers like buying direct from the farmer.”
An Ideal Environment
New Jersey’s soils, climate and history of experienced family farms create an ideal environment for high-quality fruit production, experts say. Delicious fruit, paired with access to large populations of people, makes fruit production a successful sector of New Jersey agriculture.
A large part of the state’s fruit industry is blueberries, in which New Jersey ranks fifth in production, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Looking strictly at fresh-market sales, the state ranks No. 1 in blueberries. New Jersey also ranks fourth nationally in peach production, third in cranberries and ties for eighth in apples, according to NASS.
The wine grape segment has grown and nearly doubled between the 2002 and 2007 Census of Agriculture.
Blueberry Industry Grows
The blueberry industry also has increased, says Jerry Frecon, a retired professor from Rutgers University, where he specialized in fruit.
New Jersey blueberry farms in 2013 produced 65 million pounds of the fruit, a fair crop for an abnormally wet season, says Tim Wetherbee, chairman of the New Jersey Blueberry Industry Council. He also manages sales for Diamond Blueberry, the label for four generations of family blueberry production in South Jersey.
Diamond Blueberry sells fresh blueberries up and down the East Coast and into Canada and throughout the Midwest. In contrast, the Schober farm sells off the farm and at community farmers markets directly to consumers within a 75-mile radius.
Wetherbee expects the blueberry industry to collaborate more often to fund research and tout the fruit’s health benefits including high antioxidant levels. They hope to increase blueberry consumption and ensure a fruitful future for New Jersey.