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South Jersey

Where ‘local’ equals value and endless variety
South Jersey

Labor Status
Labor continues to present an ongoing obstacle for New Jersey’s produce industry, which Sheppard considers the biggest challenge for anyone harvesting “hand-labor intensive crops.”

Tim Wetherbee of the New Jersey Blueberry Industry Advisory Board, and a grower himself with Diamond Blueberry, agrees. “Labor shortages are an issue, but are in pretty much all of agriculture.”

According to Von Rohr, the majority of the state’s growers participate in the H-2A visa program sanctioned by the government, which is supposed to minimize problems associated with bringing guest workers into the United States to work the fields. Sheppard concedes the federal H-2A program is a good source of labor, but expensive, noting it costs $11.29 per hour for a guest worker as opposed to paying the state’s minimum wage of $8.30 per hour.

A bright spot in the struggle for labor is mechanization. Von Rohr has seen Jersey blueberry growers turning away from hand-sorting to high-tech machinery, utilizing computerized packing lines to inspect the fruit by color, size, and density, and eliminating the need for as many workers. “Technology does a better job because what the eye misses, a computer can pick up,” he says.

Wetherbee confirms the efforts to mechanize more phases of the growing, harvesting, and packing process. The bad news: “It takes time,” he notes, “it’s not something done overnight.” But the better news is how “technology is improving all the time. When we pack, blueberries go through cleaners and scanners that remove off-color or soft fruit, which makes a much better pack.”

The addition of forced-air cooling is helping prolong shelf-life too. “It wasn’t as available years ago, but is pretty much the norm now,” Wetherbee notes.

Future Success
The South Jersey produce region’s benefits are many—including multicultural influences, a prime blueberry-producing climate, and the ability to acclimate and evolve with shifting trends.

“What’s exciting is our farmers have always adapted and changed through market conditions in order to stay viable,” comments Murray. “We’re not a one crop kind of state,” he says, and this is clearly evident in the vibrant mix of produce the industry exports and serves to nearby metropolises.

Despite typical challenges, the region is truly bursting with the successes of fertile cropland, geographic advantages, and a thriving locally grown trend that continues to gain ground.


Courtney Kilian is based in Vista, CA and has worked with both domestic and international growers and organizations, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and California Avocados Direct.