Aside from the dawning of 2011, New Year's weekend also brought freezing
temperatures to much of California and Arizona, which have resulted in a bit
of a supply gap for a number of vegetables items.
Tim Tomasello, sales manager of Ippolito International LP in Salinas, CA, said
that the severity of the cold weather over the three-day weekend caught
some people by surprise. Combined with a bunching of many crops prior to
that and a few quality problems, this situation caused many vegetable prices
to spike during the week of Jan. 10-15.
Broccoli bunches were in the $15-$18 range, while crowns were moving
above the $20-per-carton mark. Cauliflower was trading in the mid-teens,
as was celery. By Jan. 12, Iceberg lettuce prices were in the low teens but were
expected to move higher. Romaine and spinach were also in the same price
range. Some of the leaf items were dragging behind, but price spikes were
expected as the week wore on.
"If you look at the sales sheet, the price hikes are pretty much across the
board," said Mr. Tomasello. “We expect supplies will remain short for at least
another 10 days. Some items may remain short a little bit longer than that,
but I think your core items will see a return to better supplies in 10 days to
If his forecast is correct, prices should remain strong until late January.
Douglas Schaefer, president of E.J.’s Produce Sales in Phoenix, concurred that
it would be late January before supplies rebound and prices moderate. He said
that broccoli prices had climbed the highest, reaching the $20 range, which
he attributed to a combination of the freezing temperatures over New Year’s
weekend and two weeks of rain along the California coast in late December.
“Prior to the cold weather, we had trouble with quality because of the rain,”
said Mr. Schaefer. “We had one load [of broccoli] with pin rot that we wouldn’t
even send to the food banks. We had to dump it.”
He said that the cold temperatures have not only delayed harvest, they also
damaged some fields. “I know of one grower in the Phoenix area that lost an
entire 60-acre broccoli field,” he said. “Broccoli is usually hardy, but he had
five days of freezing temperatures.”
Mr. Schaefer said that strawberries have also been a victim of Mother Nature.
“I can’t remember strawberries being this high (above $20) for this long, and
there is no letup in sight.”
Both coasts have been hammered, with either cold weather or rain severely
hampering the strawberry harvests for the past month. Mr. Schaefer said that
the growing areas need a couple of weeks of warm weather to get back on
schedule, but no such warm weather is on the near horizon.
He suggested that it would be at least early February before strawberry
supplies are adequate to bring the price down to a normal range.
Mr. Schaefer added that the cold temperatures in Florida and other eastern
production areas have also taken their toll on a range of crops, such as sweet
corn, peppers and green beans.
He said that Mexican growers are seeing a good start to 2011 because much
of the strawberries and broccoli currently being sold in the United States
originated in fields south of the border.