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Onion harvest may push into early November, be latest in 30 years


The Iceberg lettuce transition from Salinas, CA, to Huron, CA, is not seamless and the market is quickly gaining momentum. Quality of the last fields in the Salinas Valley is suspect due to the Oct. 4-5 rain followed by several days of warm temperatures.

Initial Huron quality is noticeably better than Salinas, but not all shippers are up and running. After several weeks of flat and very reasonable prices, the lettuce market is rising and was expected to push higher until at least Oct. 24, when all shippers are projected to be operating in Huron. The current lettuce market offers a wide range in price and quality, and buyers are cautioned to be very selective.

On a positive note, the Huron weather forecast through Oct. 25 called for dry skies with daytime highs in the low to mid-80s and overnight lows in the low 50s. Looking down range, the brief Huron season will continue into mid-November and the winter season in Yuma, AZ, is slated to start the week of Nov. 14 or Nov. 21.



Salinas Valley leaf supplies will continue into early or mid-November and dovetail with the beginning of the Yuma season. A small number of shippers will offer Romaine, Green Leaf, Red Leaf and Butter lettuce in Huron.

The pending mild weather in the Salinas Valley bodes well for near-term leaf quality and availability. The better lots will offer good shelf life upon delivery. Near-term Romaine prices will follow the direction of the Iceberg lettuce market. The good news is the Huron weather forecast through Oct. 25 called for dry skies with daytime highs in the low to mid-80s and overnight lows in the low 50s.



Regional broccoli deals in Canada and the Northeast are rapidly drawing to a close. Buyers who have relied on these regional areas during the summer and early autumn will soon rely on California and Arizona through the upcoming winter season. West Coast shippers have good supplies and welcome the returning business. West Coast broccoli quality is strong and the market is expected to hold fairly steady heading into the week of Oct. 24. The autumn crop in California’s Central Valley is about to start, and the desert season will begin in early November.



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

Demand for California celery recently increased with the conclusion of the Michigan celery deal. California shippers have ample supplies of high-quality celery and welcome the return business from regions of the country that relied on Michigan during the summer and early autumn. The market was expected to remain steady and very reasonable heading into the week of Oct. 24. Looking down range, new-crop celery from Oxnard, CA, is expected to begin in mid-November.



Rising volume in Oxnard is beginning to close the statewide production gap caused by the Oct. 4-5 rain in the Salinas Valley. Oxnard’s autumn strawberry crop will continue to increase production through the balance of October and eventually peak in early to mid-November.

The strawberry market increased noticeably after the Oct. 4-5 rain and was expected to hold near current levels heading into the week of Oct. 24. Buyers can still expect limited quantities of expensive strawberries heading into late October.

Looking down range, Mexican berries are expected to be available for shipment from Yuma, AZ, by Thanksgiving.



The Idaho russet harvest is nearly complete and without incident. The 2011 russet crop throughout the Northwest has lots of size and will provide ample supplies of 60-count and larger cartons through the 2011-12 shipping season. There will be periods when foodservice russet buyers will be challenged to procure 90-count and smaller cartons.

Consumer bale demand is currently good and is expected to climb higher through the Thanksgiving pull, which continues into mid-November. Strong bale business means sheds throughout Idaho, Colorado and Washington state will run long hours to meet the bale demand and, as a by-product, generate ample supplies of cartons.

The overall carton market is expected to remain relaxed and very reasonable into the week of Nov. 14. The next few weeks will be a good time for buyers to highlight new-crop russet cartons at attractive prices.

Truck availability is very limited. Buyers are strongly encouraged to plan well ahead and load trucks as they become available.



Shippers in Ontario, OR, reported that 25-30 percent of their crop is yet to be harvested. Historically, 80-90 percent of the crop is harvested and put in storage by Oct. 10. A few shippers were 100 percent harvested Oct. 18 and at least one shipper had 70 percent of its onions still in the field.

This 2011 crop is late due to a cool growing period and has been further delayed by early-season rains. The latest rain fell Oct. 16 and delayed the harvest until Oct. 20. The near-term forecast through Oct. 25 called for mostly sunny skies with highs in the low to upper 60s through Oct. 24, then dip into the upper 50s. Overnight lows were expected to remain in the low 40s.

A major shipper in Ontario, OR, recently stated, “It’s becoming clear that this year’s harvest may push into early November. Our harvest has not stretched this late in 30 years. At the risk of stating the obvious, our onion district is in a perilous situation. Our storage crop will be greatly influenced over the next 10 to 14 days. We’re wondering how well the crop will store. Will there be heavy shrink in January and February?”

The onion market has only one direction to go — up. The market is beginning to gain traction and some Ontario, OR, shippers are quoting as high as $8 f.o.b. on jumbo yellows. This is an excellent time to order onions and get ahead of the pending market increase. The current onion market has the potential to turn noticeably higher with very little, if any, warning.

Truck availability is very limited. Buyers should plan well ahead and load trucks as they become available.



It is late in the Valencia season and today’s fruit may suffer varying degrees of softness. Oranges will look good upon arrival, but the shelf life may be less than desired.

The first new-crop Navel oranges were expected to be available in limited quantities the week of Oct. 31. Production should increase shortly thereafter and good supplies are expected by Thanksgiving. Weather in California’s Central Valley was forecast to be sunny with daytime temperatures in the upper 70s to low 80s through at least Oct. 25.



Central Valley shippers now offer new-crop lemons grown and harvested in the desert. Shippers are trucking the lemons in bulk to their Central Valley packing facilities. The market recently eased on grades of 115s and larger.

Looking down range, buyers may be challenged with an expensive winter lemon season because desert production may be down as much as 50 percent due to the February 2011 freeze.


(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