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Higher truck rates seen in June

WEATHER

Salinas, CA: There was a 30 percent chance of light rain May 25. Daytime highs will be in the mid- to low 60s through May 31 with overnight lows in the upper 40s. Partly to mostly sunny skies are expected May 26-31.

Bakersfield, CA: Daytime highs will remain unseasonably cool May 26-30 with daytime highs only in the mid- to upper 70s. Highs will break into the 80s beginning May 31. Overnight lows will be in the low to mid-50s.

Imperial Valley, CA: Daytime highs will stay in the mid- to upper 90s through May 28, then briefly dip to the low 80s May 30-31. Overnight lows will be in the mid-60s to upper 50s.

DEMAND

California onion shippers were seeing stronger demand and firm prices. Idaho russet shippers were seeing brisk No. 2 and consumer bale business. Salinas lettuce shippers were seeing easing demand.

TRANSPORTATION & FUEL

Truck availability is tight, and rates will rise further in June as the production of stone fruits, grapes and melons increases.

The price of crude oil increased $1.77 May 2h to $101.36 per barrel, which is 31 percent below record levels of July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of May 23 was $3.9, which is 32 percent higher than one year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel is $4.29, which is 36 percent higher than last year.

ICEBERG LETTUCE

Salinas Valley lettuce quality recovered nicely from the late-season rains in mid-May. Receivers can buy with confidence that today's lettuce harvest will arrive with good color, weights and shelf life.

The heavy winter rains in February and March did not allow California Central Coast growers to plant on schedule. As a consequence, the lettuce industry will swing in and out of a few production gaps this summer. A salesman for a large Salinas lettuce shipper is forecasting a weeklong rain gap to begin June 3 and June 6. The shipper expects a 40 percent volume drop the week of June 6. The salesman stated, "A big production drop for a large shipper can affect the market. Only time will tell if there will be enough demand to spark a market rise."

The arrival of new-crop California grapes, stone fruit and melons come with a sense of novelty. Receivers across the country will turn some of their attention away from lettuce and highlight the new line of summer fruits. Currently, post-Memorial Day demand is down, and the current market is adjusting lower.

Buyers can expect roller-coaster lettuce prices early this summer as Salinas shippers struggle through rain gaps in June and possibly July.

LEAF LETTUCE

Salinas Valley and Santa Maria shippers expect good supplies of Romaine, green leaf, red leaf and Butter lettuce in the near term. The leaf lettuce markets will remain reasonably priced and offer good quality heading into early June. There seems to be ample acreage under production on the Central Coast, while home-grown crops are beginning in the East.

BROCCOLI

Overall broccoli supplies are good along the Central Coast, and quality is strong. A Salinas broccoli salesman recently stated, "We're in a period of good production but light in Asian crowns. Fields produce waves of Asian crowns, and right now we are in a brief down cycle. We expect good overall supplies to continue to early June and improved Asian crown material as we break new fields the week of May 30."

CELERY

Santa Maria is producing enough new-crop celery to raise statewide production above overall demand. Oxnard and Santa Maria are now competing for market share across the nation. The market will continue to ease into the week of May 30. Salinas will start new-crop celery in early to mid-June. Production from Oxnard will begin to subside in June, and its 30-day soil moratorium begins July 15.

Oxnard and Santa Maria shippers continue to battle varying degrees of seeders. Seeders are produced when celery begins its reproductive phase and pushes up from the inner stalk to produce seeds. Seeders are allowed to be two-and-a-half times taller than the bottom width of the celery stalk. Excessive seeders are not marketable, hence growers harvest their fields early before the seeders exceed the allowed standards. The result is a higher-than-usual percentage of the mid- and small sizes.

STRAWBERRIES

Strawberry fields in Salinas and Watsonville recovered surprisingly fast from the late-season rains in mid-May. Shippers expect a significant volume increase in early June. The crop will peak in late June to early July, then begin a gradual decline in mid-July. Quality is outstanding, and today's harvest can easily travel east with ample shelf life upon arrival. Fruit is large with good color and a glossy sheen. The market may ease moderately in the near term.

ONIONS

Onion districts will soon transition from Texas and the Imperial Valley to New Mexico and Huron, CA. The onion industry is on the verge of a mammoth production gap which will create a strong seller's market through June and well into July.

The New Mexico deal is delayed one to two weeks and will be plagued with light yields and undersized onions through July. The early February freeze brought overnight temperatures between zero and 10 degrees in the onion growing districts. Onion tops in countless over-wintered fields fell and did not recover. A New Mexico salesman recently stated, "We knew onions were in trouble when the cold temperatures killed some palm trees. We believe New Mexico lost 20 to 30 percent of the entire summer crop. We sense the new crop will start between June 7 and [June] 13 instead of June 1. Initial production will be very light, and onions will be undersized." Another New Mexico shipper recently said, "We have 50 percent of a crop in June and 75 percent in July."

A few of the smaller Imperial Valley shippers have already concluded their season, and others will conclude by June 1. One Huron shipper will start the Zephyr variety June 2, while most will not start until June 6-7.

The yellow onion market is poised to catapult significantly higher as early as May 31. The red and white markets will follow close behind. Now is an opportune time to load extra onions and get ahead of rising market.

Washington state shippers will continue to offer storage yellow and red onions into early June. Jumbo red prices from the Northwest remain very competitive and are keeping a lid on new-crop red prices in California. The red onion market will advance quickly once Washington state supplies are exhausted.

Truck availability is limited, and fuel is expensive. Buyers are encouraged to stay ahead of inventories and load trucks as they become available. Flatbed trucks are the preferred mode of transportation because the highway wind whistles through the load and keeps the respiring onions dry.

RUSSETS

Idaho shippers were seeing brisk consumer bale and No. 2 demand. Interest in cartons remains moderate. A least one major Idaho shipper was seeing an increasing need to fulfill processor contracts. This essentially reduces the quantity of non-A supplies available to retailers.

Idaho shippers sense that overall supplies are short for this time of the year and are reducing packing hours. The goal is to stretch the remaining supplies and prevent or minimize a gap in July between the old and new crops. Carton prices have fallen considerably since April and have found a fairly stable trading range at current levels.

Colorado supplies are light, and many shippers expect to conclude their season in early June, which is one month early. This will apply added pressure to the overall russet market and present additional supply challenges.

LEMONS

Rain the week of May 16 interrupted the harvest and temporarily limited near term supplies. Skies are once again dry, but temperatures remain below seasonal levels. Prices are steady and firm. Lemons are available in Oxnard and the central valley, and can load with Valencia oranges.

ORANGES

The orange industry is in the process of switching varieties from navels to Valencias. The remaining late-season navels are large, and prices are rising. The early season Valencias offer more of the foodservice 88s, 113s and 138s, and it's now time to switch from navels to Valencias. Oranges are available for loading in the Central Valley followed distantly by Oxnard and Riverside. Oranges and lemons can load together in either district.

CARROTS

The four-month struggle with light volume and undersized carrots is nearly over. California carrot shippers said that production of jumbo carrots and two-inch plugs are back to normal. Production of four-inch plugs will return to normal levels by June 3. Jumbo carrots prices are expected to ease in the near term.

 

(Bill Armstrong is a self-employed produce broker who operates Armstrong Marketing in Salinas, CA. His column appears here every Wednesday afternoon/Thursday morning. He may be reached by phone at 888/484-0800 or at ArmstrongMarketing@comcast.net.)