The Iceberg lettuce transition from Salinas to Huron was not seamless initially, and the market advanced the week of Oct. 17 because several shippers were not able to begin their Huron harvest until Monday, Oct. 24.
Initial quality from Huron has largely improved over the last fields from the Salinas Valley. Quality reports indicate that several Huron lettuce fields have puffy, misshaped lettuce and below-normal carton weights. Despite the light weight, Huron lettuce should offer good shelf life after arrival.
Yields in Huron are below expectations, which allows shippers to comfortably sell each day’s harvest and maintain the recent price increases. The lettuce market continues to offer a range in price and quality, and buyers should be very selective.
On a positive note, the Huron weather forecast through Nov. 1 called for continuing dry skies with daytime highs in the mid- to upper 70s and overnight lows in the low 50s.
Looking ahead, the brief Huron season is expected to 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 are expected to continue into early or mid-November and dovetail with the beginning of the Yuma, AZ, season. A small number of shippers now offer Romaine, Green Leaf, Red Leaf and Butter lettuce in Huron.
The continuing mild and dry weather through Nov. 1 in Huron and 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 and Green Leaf prices should hold steady near current levels heading into the week of Oct. 31.
Regional broccoli deals in Canada and the Northeast are essentially complete for the season, and buyers who relied on these seasonal growing areas during the summer and early autumn now will return to 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 was expected to hold fairly steady heading into the week of Oct. 31.
West Coast shippers are seven to 10 days ahead of their harvest schedule and foresee a significant production gap between the conclusion of the Salinas Valley deal and the beginning of the desert season in Yuma. Supplies were expected to tighten considerably beginning the week of Nov. 7 or Nov. 14, which will trigger the next round of expensive prices.
The Oxnard, CA, celery season has started and is adding to the already ample West Coast supplies provided by shippers in Salinas and Santa Maria, CA. High-quality celery is available in all three shipping districts and shippers are peaking on 24s followed by 30s. A multi-tier market continues in California as Santa Maria and Oxnard shippers attempt to lure orders and trucks away from Salinas.
Demand for California celery is rising with the conclusion of the Michigan deal. California shippers will have ample supplies for the Thanksgiving pull 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. 31.
Oxnard’s autumn strawberry crop should continue to increase production through the balance of October and eventually peak in early to mid-November. The strawberry market increased noticeably after the rain Oct. 4-5 in Salinas, and it was expected to hold near current levels heading into the week of Oct. 31. Buyers should expect limited quantities of expensive strawberries heading into early November.
Looking down range, Mexican berries should be available for shipment from Yuma, AZ, by Thanksgiving.
The Idaho russet harvest is complete and the current stretch of overnight freezing temperatures is a non-issue. The 2011 russet crop throughout the Northwest has lots of size and should provide ample supplies of 60-count and larger cartons through the 2011-12 shipping season. There will periods when foodservice buyers will be challenged to procure 90-count and smaller russets.
Consumer bale demand remains good and is expected to climb higher through the Thanksgiving pull, which is just getting underway and will continue 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.
Most Idaho sheds will pack Norkotahs through the remainder of the calendar year then switch to Burbanks. Buyers in need of Burbanks should plan well ahead of shipping. Truck availability is very limited, which is another reason buyers need to plan in advance.
A large Ontario, OR, shipper recently stated, “This is the harvest that’s lasted forever. Our district’s first onions were harvested just before August 10 and a few shippers will continue into early November.”
Ontario shippers reported that 15 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. Several shippers are finally 100 percent harvested, while more shippers will finish the week of Oct. 31 and at least one shipper still has 40 percent of its onions in the field.
The remaining 15 percent of Ontario’s onion crop was exposed to overnight temperatures in the mid- to upper 20s Oct. 25. This was a brief cold snap and did not damage the onions still under soil. Growers would have been terribly concerned if the cold period extended three days or more, because soil temperatures would then approach freezing and possibly damage the unharvested onions.
The 2011-12 storage crop will be heavily influenced by the cool growing season and multiple harvest delays. Shippers are quietly wondering how well the crop will store and whether there be heavy shrink in January and February.
The yellow onion market has increased moderately since Oct. 17 and has plenty of room to run higher. The market is gaining traction and is expected to increase further heading into early and mid-November. This remains an excellent time to order onions and get ahead of future market increases.
Truck availability is very limited and buyers should plan well ahead and load trucks as they become available.
Central Valley shippers were expected to harvest the first Navel oranges the week of Oct. 31 and introduce ethylene gas for 96 hours to bring out the full color. Navel production will increase quickly and good supplies are expected by Thanksgiving. Hanging fruit eventually will produce full color as daytime temperatures continue to fall into mid-December. It is very late in the Valencia season and today’s fruit may suffer varying degrees of softness. Oranges will look good upon arrival, but shelf life may be less than desired.
The Central Valley forecast called for mild temperatures and dry skies through at least Nov. 1.
California citrus shippers now offer new-crop desert lemons, which are transported in bulk to their Central Valley packing facilities. The market eased in mid-October and is now holding steady near current levels. Buyers willing and able to load independent fruit in Yuma will find considerable savings.
Buyers will be challenged with an expensive winter lemon season because desert production is down an incredible 75 percent due to the February freeze. The upcoming desert lemon season will end in late January or early February instead of early April, as is customary.
Daytime highs in Salinas, CA, were expected to range in the low to mid-70s through Oct. 29 before easing into the upper 60s through Nov. 1. Overnight lows were expected to range in the mid-40s to low 50s, and rain was not in the forecast through Nov. 1.
In Huron, CA, daytime highs were expected to range in the mid- to upper 70s through Nov. 1 with overnight lows in the upper 40s to low 50s. Rain was not in the forecast through Nov. 1.
Northwest onion shippers were seeing improving demand and a delayed harvest. Idaho russet shippers were experiencing increasing consumer bale demand for the Thanksgiving pull. West Coast lettuce shippers welcomed the return of Canadian demand.
TRANSPORTATION & FUEL
The availability of trucks in the Northwest is limited and buyers should plan well ahead. Truck availability on the West Coast is adequate.
Crude oil prices fell $2.50 Oct. 26 to $90.67 per barrel, which is 38 percent below record levels of July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of Oct. 24 was $3.83, which is 25 percent higher than a year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel is $4.10, or 27 percent higher than last year.
(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 )