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A lack of supply has caused a sharp increase in the price of celery, and the market should remain strong for at least several more weeks.

 

David Cook
“When there is a hot market, there are usually a variety of reasons, and that is the case with celery,” David Cook, sales manager for Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard, CA, told The Produce News. “In the first place, all the supplies are coming out of this one region [Oxnard]. Florida is finished, northern Mexico is finished and the desert districts are finished.”

 

Not only has that meant less supplies, it also puts all the sales teams on equal footing with access to the same information.

“We’ve had weather-related issues, and everybody knows it,” said Mr. Cook. “There has been some bolting (celery stalks going to seed), which has been a nagging problem. When celery starts to go to seed, you have to cut it. You can’t wait. That leads to early cutting in the field and less yields. The celery is lighter, and we are going through the fields faster. It becomes a self-perpetuating problem.”

Mr. Cook said that is especially true for the celery being processed, which is cut and ordered by the pound. It is currently taking more stalks to fill the same orders.

That is not as big a problem at retail, where sales are by the stalk regardless of their exact weight.

The Deardorff executive said that the rising price at retail should help bring the market price down. “The [f.o.b.] market right now is in the mid-$20s,” he said. “The corresponding retail price that they need to get should slow down demand considerably. At high retail prices, many consumers will decide to buy something else.”

Mr. Cook said that relief in the area of increased supplies could be around the corner, as the Santa Maria district started cutting a few fields the week of May 9-14, and the beginning of Salinas production is about a month away.

“I don’t know exactly how much production is in those areas, but I suspect it is a normal amount and supplies will increase,” he said.

He added that the market could remain strong for the foreseeable future, but staying in the mid $20 range is probably not sustainable.

“I can see it topping $10 for awhile, but not $20,” he said.