Vegetable markets are going strong, but spring should bring supplies back to normal
by Tim Linden | March 18, 2010
Shippers of peppers, broccoli, celery, cauliflower and even Iceberg lettuce
who had good supplies of product have had a pretty good past month.
"Supplies have been tight," Douglas Schaefer, president of E.J.'s Produce Sales
Inc. in Phoenix, told The Produce News. "Green peppers in Nogales have been
selling for $40 a carton and $45 for jumbos. I've never seen prices that high."
Mr. Schaefer said March 17 that the cauliflower market had been strong for
the past several weeks and that celery has been in a demand-exceeds-
supply situation for several months. "I've never seen so little celery planted.
There just hasn't been any. Cauliflower got into the high teens, but that
usually levels things off, so I suspect that's going to happen this week."
Mr. Schaefer said that a combination of the cold January weather in Florida
and the above-average rainfall in California for the past several months has
led to the recent strong market -- and in fact a fairly good market for much
of the time since the beginning of the year.
The Iceberg and leaf lettuce markets ended 2009 and started 2010 with good
prices, but they fell quite a bit -- especially in February -- as cold East Coast
weather curtailed demand. But during this period, the inclement California
and Arizona weather continued and demand and supply finally got back in
line as March rolled in.
For most of the first two weeks of March, lettuce prices were in the low teens
and shippers saw good movement.
"The weather finally caught up with us," said Thomas M. Nunes, vice
president of operations for The Nunes Co. in Salinas, CA.
Mr. Nunes, who spent much of the winter in Yuma, AZ, managing the
company's harvesting operations in the desert, said that it was a simple case
of supply gaps resulting from earlier wet weather. He said that supplies were
spotty, which increased demand and caused the market to rise.
While the desert deal and the West Mexican winter vegetable deal are nearing
their respective ends, new production areas loom on the horizon.
Mr. Schaefer said that California's coastal regions, ranging from Oxnard
through Santa Maria and into the Salinas Valley, are starting to come back to
life, and supplies should be picking up in each of those areas. Add in the
normal shift of lettuce production from the desert to the spring deal in
Huron, which is located on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley in central
California, and the future for supplies looks good.
"Things are starting to loosen up this week," he said. "Lettuce is already
coming down. Santa Maria and Salinas are getting started and Florida is
California and Arizona had abundant rain on Friday, March 12, but warm
weather was the order of the day for most of the week of March 15-19, with
temperatures climbing into the 70s near the coast and well into the 80s in
the warmest valleys.
A week or two of these temperatures and the spring crops will mature
Of course, the West Coast growers interviewed by The Produce News were
also elated by the rise of temperatures on the East Coast, which typically
results in increased consumption of lettuce and the other vegetable items.