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Like many other California vegetable commodities this winter, carrot production has been lighter than usual because of colder-than-normal winter temperatures.

During the winter and early spring months, the Imperial Valley in the California southern desert area is the main source of carrots for the state — and for that matter, the country. Eric Proffitt, sales manager for Grimmway Farms in Bakersfield, CA, said that the Imperial Valley typically is the firm’s carrot source from late fall until mid-Spring. “In a normal year, we will harvest in the Imperial Valley until mid- to late May, and then we will return to the Bakersfield area in the San Joaquin Valley.”

But he said that this year has been far from normal. The cold and wet weather, which has sent lettuce and other vegetable prices through the roof, has also affected the supply and demand dynamic for carrots. Speaking March 1, Mr. Proffitt said that cello carrots were selling in the range of $18-$19 f.o.b., while jumbo cartons were around $25-$26. Prices on both products were 25-30 percent higher than what would be considered normal for the time of year.

Chris Smotherman, sales representative for Kern Ridge Growers LLC in Arvin, CA, told The Produce News a week later that supplies remained tight. “I anticipate that availability will be extremely limited for another six to eight weeks. The other local carrot shippers were forced to start the season in the Imperial Valley early, which should cause yields to continue to be poor. I see the next month being extremely difficult in regards to supply. Cellos, jumbos and processing carrots are going to be very hard to come by.”

Warm weather, however, is the friend of better supplies. If the weather heats up in the desert, as it typically should this time of year, the crop in the ground could come on faster and reduce the shortage period a bit. One thing is clear, however: March will not be California’s top carrot production month as it was last season.

Jerry Munson, manager of the California Fresh Market Advisory Board, said that the assessment collections for the month of March in 2010 were more than 10 percent higher than any other month last year, indicating that March harvesting and sales records also topped the charts. California does produce carrots 12 months of the year on a fairly steady basis, but there is a sizeable gap between the top and bottom producing months. In fact, about 50 percent more carrots were harvested in March than in the lowest two months, which were August and September. However, the volume for the other nine months was in a fairly tight range varying by about 20 percent.

According to Mr. Munson, California is by far the nation’s leading producer of carrots, representing about 70 percent of the country’s volume. The state’s producers do export some volume, but very few foreign-grown carrots make their way into the United States. In fact, Mr. Munson said that he is unaware of any carrot imports.

Carrot production in 2010 was a mirror image of 2009. The total volume of 19.183 million hundredweight in 2010 was within a half a percent of the previous year’s volume. “But we are still down a million hundredweight from our peak seasons of 2003 to 2008,” Mr. Munson said. “In each of those years, we topped 20 million hundredweight.”

The longtime advisory board manager said that the recession, which hit the United States in full force in the fall of 2008, is the cause of the drop in volume. “There is no other explanation,” he said. “The recession did it to us.”

The California Fresh Market Carrot Advisory Board is a research program that spends its assessment funds on production research. Mr. Munson said that nematodes are the primary enemy of carrots, so nematode research is where the board spends the lion’s share of its research dollars. “We had 14 research projects last year and half of them are related to nematodes.”

He said that the research includes finding crop protection tools to combat the soil-borne pest as well as developing varieties that are nematode resistant.

(For more on California carrots, see the March 14-28, 2011, issue of The Produce News.)