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Strong market continues for broccoli, cauliflower

by Tim Linden | December 15, 2011

Broccoli and cauliflower supplies have not caught up to demand as a result of the early December freeze that raked several California and Arizona production areas.

Denny Donovan, sales and general manager of Fresh Kist Produce LLC, headquartered in Salinas, CA, told The Produce News Dec. 15 that buyers were backing off a bit in anticipation of weakening in the market, but it still would be north of $20 per carton for both of those items. "I noticed a little reluctance [to buy] this morning. They are expecting to get some better deals next week," he said.

However, the U.S. Federal State Market News Service still was reporting a demand-exceeds-supply situation for both of those cole crops. Cauliflower was in the $20-$25 range -- depending upon quality and size -- with broccoli still above $20, though some quotes were in the high teens late this week.

Mr. Donovan said that unlike the Thanksgiving holiday, which sees a huge drop off in demand within a few days of the event, the Christmas holiday pull is followed closely by the New Year's Eve pull, and the proliferation of party trays keeps vegetable demand solid. "I do expect some drop off next week, but I think we are going to have a solid market all winter as long as the weather cooperates."

He said that weather always plays a big role in the winter as Mother Nature can impact supply and demand very quickly. "I expect we will be on a roller coaster ride all winter," he said. "We'll have some days with good supplies and other times when we will be short."

With Christmas around the corner, the lettuce market did weaken significantly this week, dropping below $10 per carton. It has been in the mid-teens for the past two weeks, but supplies increased a bit this week, dropping the market price.

David Cook, who is in the sales department for Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard, CA, agreed that many of the produce items his company sells -- ranging from celery to radishes to strawberries and mixed greens -- were in light supply as the holiday approached. "It's weather related," he said Dec. 15. "It's been on the cold side so crops aren't growing that quickly. We are also in short supply on most of the organic vegetable items that we carry."

Speaking specifically of strawberries, he said, "Our grower has gotten out in the fields a couple of times, but each time he has picked less than a full pallet. I don't think we will see a lot of strawberries until late January."

He also predicted that many of the vegetable items would not see significant volume increases for another month. "Come about January 15, the days will get longer and the plants will start to grow again. Then we will see an increase in production."

The California freezing temperatures in early December also were accompanied by high winds, which could have caused havoc with some tree crops, including avocados and citrus. However, industry sources say no such damage occurred.

Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, CA, said, "We had virtually no damage in San Diego or southern Riverside counties. Maybe a few pounds on the ground [from the winds] but that's about it. Actually, the weather has been very good. We've gotten about double the average rainfall, which isn't a lot but is still very good."

He said that rainwater is very pure and besides reducing irrigation costs it helps the interior quality of the fruit. "We see the crop as being right on schedule," he said.

California is expecting an avocado crop much larger than last year as it has been estimated at close to 400 million pounds. While some fruit will be harvested in January and February as growers thin their groves, production will begin in earnest in March, with most of the crop marketed during the summer.

Citrus growers in the San Joaquin Valley also reported no damage from the wind and cold weather. Some growers in specific cold spots had to employ frost-protection measures, but the freeze did not dip low enough nor last long enough to cause any significant damage.