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Eastern weather curtails demand and harvest of Western crops

by Tim Linden | February 10, 2010
"Harvest curtailed by market conditions" is how the U.S. Federal-State Market News Service characterized the state of demand for many fresh vegetables in its Feb. 8 report.

The daily report noted that prices for many of the leaf items, including Iceberg lettuce, were mostly in the well-below-cost $5-$7 range because there was no demand. Bunched broccoli was barely over $5 per carton, while the crown cut was getting a dollar or two more -- but still trading well below the break-even point.

The same was true for cauliflower with an f.o.b. in the $7-$9 range. Even celery and strawberries, which were in short supply because of growing conditions, were only registering f.o.b. prices in the low teens due to the lack of demand.

Tom Oliveri, director of trade practices and commodity services for Western Growers Association, said that his daily discussions with shippers had almost all of them singing the blues over the lack of demand.

"The bad weather on the East Coast over the last several weeks has really cut into demand," Mr. Oliveri said. "Even when celery prices were sky high a couple of weeks ago, the phone wasn't ringing. When it is snowing like it is right now [on the Eastern Seaboard], people are eating soup, not salads."

West Coast weather remained volatile as well, as the two-week pattern of intermittent storms continued to drench much of California and Arizona. However, despite some reports of flooding and landslides in urban areas, especially around the hills of Los Angeles, the rains have not hampered production to any large degree.

As the government reporting agency revealed, it is marketing conditions rather than field conditions that are currently causing problems for Western growers and shippers.