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Near-term California orange prices expected to nudge higher

WEATHER

Daytime temperatures in Salinas, CA, were expected to range from the upper 60s to low 70s Aug. 25-30 with overnight lows in the mid-50s. Patchy morning fog and sunny afternoons are expected to persist into early September.

Daytime temperatures in Mendota, CA, were predicted to be in the mid- to upper 90s Aug. 30, with overnight lows in the low to mid-60s.

 

DEMAND

Strawberry shippers were seeing strong demand for the premium lots and labels. Northwest russet shippers are experiencing good demand for new-crop Norkotahs. Salinas row-crop shippers were seeing continued modest demand on many key items.

 

TRANSPORTATION & FUEL

Truck availability on the West Coast is adequate and freight rates should begin to ease after the Labor Day pull.

The price of crude oil fell modestly Aug. 24 to $85 per barrel, which is 42 percent below record levels of July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of Aug. 22 was $3.81, which is 29 percent higher than a year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel is $3.93, or 24 percent higher than last year.

 

ICEBERG LETTUCE

Lettuce acreage in the Salinas Valley and Santa Maria is purposely reduced during the summer months because of the competition from regional growing deals in Canada and back East. There also is strong competition for retail space from melons, grapes and soft fruit. Lettuce acreage is expected to increase in early to mid-October when the regional growing deals end their seasons.

Persistent morning fog followed by sunny afternoons in the Salinas Valley has produced an environment ripe for mildew. Many fields in August have suffered from varying degrees of mildew. In some instances, harvesters are forced to slow their pace and remove affected leaves, which can result in smaller heads and light weights. Shippers also combat the mildew by harvesting lettuce three to five days early and removing extra wrapper leaves to ensure healthy, clean lettuce. Shippers expect these trends to continue into early September.

Light lettuce demand over the past several weeks has overshadowed most production issues. Most shippers said their current production levels are close to budget and the continued light demand makes it seem as though they have excess volume. The lettuce market was expected to remain very reasonable heading into the week of Aug. 29.

 

LEAF LETTUCE

California’s Central Coast leaf market remains in a situation similar to Iceberg lettuce. Summer plantings are purposely down and the persistent fog pattern is reducing yields, particularly in Romaine lettuce. The ongoing mildew issues are decreasing production and some shippers have recently tested modestly higher Romaine prices. Shippers remain perplexed that the excessive August heat in the regional growing areas hasn’t diverted demand back to the West Coast. Continued light demand the week of Aug. 29 was expected to continue to curb sales and prevent the market from gaining any true momentum.

 

BROCCOLI

California broccoli shippers continue to compete with Canada and Maine for U.S. market share in the Midwest and along the Eastern Seaboard. Overall bunch supplies outweigh demand and the market is reasonably priced. Production from California remains lopsided towards bunch 14s and is placing a premium on Asian-cut broccoli crowns. The overall market is expected to hold fairly steady heading into the week of Aug. 29. Quality from Salinas and Santa Maria is excellent.

 

CELERY

Salinas Valley and Santa Maria shippers continue to offer ample supplies of high-quality celery. The size profile remains heaviest to 24s, followed by 30s. A two-tier market has developed in California as Santa Maria shippers attempt to lure orders and trucks away from Salinas.

The Michigan celery deal will compete with California for U.S. market share through the summer months. The combined supply from Michigan and California currently outweighs demand and has created very reasonable prices. The market was expected to remain steady heading into the week of Aug. 29.

 

STRAWBERRIES

Recent strawberry production from Salinas and Watsonville has declined more than expected, and shippers were forced to prorate orders the week of Aug. 15. Volume over the coming weeks is expected to decrease further and additional prorates are anticipated.

Decreasing production this time of year brings smaller-sized fruit, which now counts 22-24 per one-pound clamshell. Buyers must be selective to locate the hardier lots, which can comfortably arrive on the East Coast with good shelf life. The market has increased noticeably since late July and is expected to continue to push higher through the remainder of August. Receivers are encouraged not to get long despite the forecast of rising prices.

A noticeable quality variance exists in the Salinas Valley, and the best fruit is commanding a premium. This trend should continue well into September.

 

RUSSETS

New-crop russet Norkotahs are available in Idaho, Washington state and Colorado. Shippers are still getting up to speed and not all packingsheds are yet on-line. The early-season crop is leaning heaviest to 80s, 90s and 100s. Mixer quantities of the large carton counts are available. Ten- and six-ounce No. 2s are very limited. Early-season quality is strong with minimal, if any, skinning.

The market is firm on the large cartons and No. 2s. There is some degree of play in the 80s, 90s and 100s. The near-term carton market is expected to hold fairly steady. Prices are expected to gradually relax as more shippers begin and total production increases in late August and early September.

Looking further down range, the russet Burbank crop is late and the bulk of the harvest will take place in late September to mid-October.

An Idaho shipper said Aug. 23, “We recently conducted some sample digs on Burbanks and they were only three to four inches in length. We could use another five to six weeks of growing before we kill the vines.”

The possibility exists that the late Burbank harvest may be challenged by a mid-October freeze.

 

ONIONS

Onion buyers have several growing districts from which to choose in California, New Mexico, Washington state and Colorado. Ontario, OR, and Utah remain a few weeks away and will offer onions beginning in early September. California will continue to offer onions into early to mid-September, while New Mexico will complete its season in late August.

There are lots of moving pieces and it can be a chore to stay on top of the markets in all areas. Generally speaking, the near-term jumbo yellow market is expected to hold fairly steady near current levels. The jumbo red market has been firm of late, but will soon relax as Washington state supplies increase into early September. Supplies in Colorado and New Mexico are light, and shippers do not feel the need to aggressively compete with other districts.

The theme of the Northwest crop remains “late with many unknowns” because of the cold spring and early-summer growing conditions. Looking down range, the bulk of the Ontario, OR, crop has been delayed and won’t be harvested until after Sept. 10.

The average size of the crop remains to be seen, and the possibility exists for the late onion harvest to be challenged by a late October freeze.

 

ORANGES

The upcoming Navel crop appears to be three weeks late and will not start until the third week in November. Shippers must reduce Valencia production today and spread the remaining supplies over a longer period of time to prevent or minimize a variety gap in November. Near-term orange prices will nudge higher as shippers apply the brakes to production. Extra demand has shifted to 88s thru 138s as schools reconvene.

Overall quality is strong with good sugars. Oranges are available for loading in the Central Valley and Oxnard. Oranges and lemons can load together in either district. Daytime temperatures in the Central Valley were expected to range in the mid-90s to 100 degrees through Aug. 30, with overnight lows in the upper 60s to 70 degrees.

 

LEMONS

The overall quality in California is good, however a few lots are beginning to fade. Receivers should be selective and may even want to consider switching from Choice to Fancy grade fruit. Offshore lemons are available on both coasts and are a viable option.

Quality is expected to improve in October with the start of new-crop lemons in the desert. Looking down range, production of the desert crop may be down as much as 50 percent due to the February freeze. Lemons are available in Oxnard and the Central Valley and can load with Valencia oranges. Patchy morning fog was expected to continue in Oxnard through Aug. 30, with daytime highs in the low to mid-70s.

 

MELONS

West Side cantaloupe shippers are temporarily plugged with excess production. Cantaloupe prices are very reasonable, and supplies were expected to remain heavy through Aug. 26. The cantaloupe market was expected to turn upwards the week of Aug. 29 as production eases and the Labor Day pull is in full swing.

Today’s cantaloupe quality is excellent with Brix levels at 10 to 12 and production at the season’s peak. Melons have a full slip, high netting and a golden straw color. The size profile is heavy to 9s and 12s followed by 15s then distantly by 18s.

Honeydew volume is steady and the market is fairly firm at current levels. Honeydew sizes are heavy to 4s and 5s followed distantly by 6s. Brix levels are 12-14 and the eating quality is outstanding.

The weather in Mendota, CA, remains sunny and hot. Daytime highs were expected to range in the mid- to upper 90s through Aug. 30 with overnight lows registering in the low to mid-60s.

 

(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)