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A late Yuma season and weather complications push the broccoli market higher


Salinas, CA — Daytime high temperatures were forecast to fall into the upper 50s to low 60s through Nov. 15 accompanied by rain showers Nov. 10-12. Lows were expected to range in the low to mid-40s. Outlying areas were predicted to dip into the mid- to upper 30s.

Huron, CA — Daytime high temperatures were forecast to fall into the low 60s through Nov. 15 accompanied by rain showers Nov. 10-12. Lows were expected to range in the low to mid-40s.

Yuma, AZ — Daytime high temperatures were predicted to remain unseasonably cool in the low to mid-70s through Nov. 15 with overnight lows in the low 50s to upper 40s. There was a chance of rain showers forecast for Nov. 11-13.



Northwest russet potato shippers have seen a nice blend of retail bale and foodservice carton demand. Row-crop shippers have noted decreased supplies and rising Thanksgiving demand on celery, lettuce, leaf, broccoli and cauliflower.



The annual Christmas tree pull is about to start in the Northwest, which will compound the problem of limited truck availability for russets and onions. Truck availability on the West Coast is adequate. Crude oil prices fell modestly Nov. 9 to $96.35 per barrel, which is 34 percent below the record levels seen in July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of Nov. 7 was $3.89, which was 25 percent higher than a year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel was $4.21 — 28 percent higher than last year.



The lettuce transition from Huron to Yuma was expected to continue through Nov. 18. It is unfortunately littered with problems resulting in decreasing supplies and high prices. Recent cold temperatures and rain in Huron have slowed production and forced some shippers to Yuma ahead of schedule. Huron production is quickly fading while the desert season is getting off to a slow and staggered pace. A Salinas sales manager recently said, “Huron is winding down, and Yuma is not ready to pick up the slack. All this is occurring just as the Thanksgiving pull is starting. More cold temperatures and rain showers are forecast in both areas the weekend of November 12. We’re expecting a production gap the week of November 14, and we may not see normal desert supplies until late November.”

Overall lettuce quality is in question. Huron quality will suffer the weekend of Nov. 12 in direct proportion to the amount of rainfall the area receives. The first desert lettuce is small, puffy and has seeders. Buyers should tell their sales force and customer base to expect tight supplies, higher prices and less-than-perfect quality the weeks of Nov. 14 and Nov. 21.



Salinas Valley leaf supplies should continue through Nov. 18, then all shippers should be harvesting in the desert the week of Nov. 21. Quality from the Salinas Valley through Nov. 18 will be influenced by the degree of rain received over the weekend of Nov. 12. Recent and continuing cold temperatures have been slowing production and reducing supplies. The leaf market has increased considerably since late October and has the potential to run higher into late November. The Oxnard, CA, leaf season has started, but overall supplies are modest compared to the Salinas Valley. Oxnard shippers have been quoting their leaf with varying degrees of windburn.



California shippers had ample broccoli supplies through much of October due to moderate temperatures, which accelerated production and clustered overall volume. The recent cold weather has essentially halted production, and the product designed to be ready now was harvested earlier due to the recent warm weather. Making matters worse, the Yuma broccoli season is getting off to a late start, and the desert is not in a position to compensate for the significant shortfall in Central California and Northern California. The market has increased considerably since late October and will likely push higher during the Thanksgiving pull Nov. 10-21.



California celery is available in Salinas, Santa Maria and Oxnard. Recent cold temperatures and rain decreased production to the point that shippers have been having difficulty keeping up with Thanksgiving demand. The market is noticeably higher and may increase further depending on how cold it gets and the amount of rain California receives Nov. 11-13. Quality is strong despite the weather-induced production problems.



Rain the week of Oct. 31 essentially ended the Salinas and Watsonville season in Northern California. Oxnard, which is now the West Coast’s primary shipping area, is expecting a winter storm the weekend of Nov. 12, which will create production problems the weeks of Nov. 14 and Nov. 21. Daytime highs in Oxnard have recently been in the low 70s but were forecast to drop to the upper 50s Nov. 12 accompanied by nearly an inch of rain. The strawberry market will likely remain very expensive through Thanksgiving. Most supplies of fruit from central Mexico will be available in Yuma beginning Monday, Nov. 14.



The harvest is complete in the greater Northwest region and in Colorado. Shippers now know the size profile within their storage facilities and will do their best to adhere to a scheduled release program. Shippers have indicated that there is finally a nice blend of retail bale and foodservice carton demand. Floor inventories have been moving nicely without any significant buildup. Shippers welcome the current pace of business and expected the market to hold near current levels heading into the week of Nov. 14.

Most Idaho sheds will pack Norkotahs through the remainder of the calendar year and will then switch to Burbanks. Burbanks are currently available, but buyers should order in advance. Large Burbank cartons are commanding over the Norkotahs. Truck availability is very limited and will get even tighter when the Christmas tree pull starts the week of Nov. 14.



Ontario, OR, shippers are thankful the harvest is finally over. Cool temperatures through the early and mid- periods of the growing season initially delayed the crop. Cold temperatures returned during the harvest accompanied by four different bouts of rain. It turns out that this year’s harvest was one of the latest in the past 30 years. Despite all the struggles, shippers are pleasantly surprised with the nice skin and good color of the crop. A major shipper recently stated, “Today we’re pleasantly surprised. Ask us again in January and February. Not everything is going to keep. Odds are we’ll discover some negative surprises resulting in higher-than-usual shrink rates.”

Today’s jumbo yellow and red markets have been surprisingly reasonable. There was a moderate price range on jumbo yellows based on the percentage over 3.5 inches in diameter. The current market has very little, if any, downside risk. Some shippers soon will test higher prices in advance of the Thanksgiving pull. Quality has been strong, and today’s shipments offer good shelf life.

Truck availability is very limited and will only get tighter when the Christmas tree pull begins the week of Nov. 14. Buyers should plan well in advance and load trucks as they become available.



Central Valley shippers have been harvesting and packing new-crop Navel oranges. Early-season Navels tend to be green, so shippers use ethylene gas to enhance the fruits’ color. Production should increase quickly, and good supplies are expected by Thanksgiving. Initial Brix levels were hovering around 10 but will likely soon increase to 12. Hanging fruit will eventually produce full color as daytime temperatures continue to fall into mid-December. Rain Nov. 11 will likely interrupt the Central Valley harvest and loading.



Central Valley shippers have been offering new-crop lemons grown and harvested in the desert. Shippers have been transporting the lemons in bulk to their central valley packing facilities. Offshore supplies have been holding the domestic market steady. Buyers willing and able to load independent fruit in Yuma will find considerable savings. Looking down range, buyers will be challenged with an expensive winter lemon season because desert production is down as much as 75 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 )