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Vegetable supplies in transition with strong markets

As November dawned, there was a significant transition in vegetable production and markets were strong, portending a solid winter vegetable deal from the West.

The lettuce market came off its very high mid-October run, which saw prices nearing the $40 mark, but many other commodities remained tight as the Thanksgiving pull sat just off the horizon. Mark McBride, a salesman for Coastline Family Farms, based in Salinas, CA, told The Produce News on Nov. 1 that several grower-shippers had transitioned to the Huron district in Central California for their lettuce supplies, with the first Yuma, AZ, fields only a week or two away from harvest.  Huron typically has a three to four week harvest window with some growers using it to bridge their summer deals on the California coast to their winter desert deals. Others go directly from the coast to the desert, relying on late fields in one area and early ones in the other.  Consequently, November supplies can be a bit erratic, especially on head lettuce.Cauliflower-Head-CMYK

Doug Classen, sales manager for The Nunes Co. Inc., based in Salinas, CA, said that while the lettuce market had come down quite a bit, it was still a solid $10-$12 on Nov. 1 with indications that it could tighten as demand increases. Overall, he said demand for other lettuces, broccoli and celery were very good with cauliflower supplies non-existent. “If you can find any, cauliflower is at $30-plus, broccoli is in the $20 range and celery also has a strong market.  Overall the vegetable market is doing very well right now.”

Another factor influencing vegetable supplies is the cold front that sliced through the upper Midwest and Northeast over the last few days of October. McBride said some of the regional deals were still impacting the market as late October unfolded, but the cold weather put a quick end to most of those deals. “That has helped us,” he said.

Still another potential impact was California’s first storm, which was threatening to dump some rain along the coast during the first November weekend. There was some indication that rain would be significant north of San Francisco and in the mountains but not in the growing areas. McBride expressed doubt that enough rain would hit Salinas or Huron to have much of an impact. No rain was expected in the desert in the most southern region of the state.

The Ventura County area of California, which produces many vegetable crops 12 months of the year, was actually hoping for a little rain as it did not have any in the first month (October) of the fiscal rain year. Russell Widerburg, sales manager for Boskovich Farms Inc., based in Oxnard, CA, said celery production was about to shift from Santa Maria fields to Oxnard and he expected a seamless transition. He noted that celery is a very popular item for Thanksgiving. He expects adequate supplies but a strong market. In fact, Widerburg had a similar report for many different vegetable items that Boskovich sells including Brussels sprouts. That’s another strong Thanksgiving item in which supplies should be adequate but the market fairly strong.

Of course, weather all over the country plays a big role in the supply and demand curve for winter vegetables. While bad weather in the West can impact supplies, bad weather in the East definitely impacts demand. McBride said there appears to be ample acreage to allow for good supplies over the next several months and growing conditions have been ideal. Time will tell if the situation continues but it appears that at least for the first holiday a full platter of vegetables can be served, except for cauliflower. “I don’t think there will be much cauliflower for at least a few weeks,” said Classen on the first day of November.  “And then we will see after that.”