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Central Valley Navel production is on the rise with strong demand


Daytime highs in Yuma, AZ, were expected to dip into the upper 60s through Nov. 23. Overnight lows should remain in the low to mid-50s through Nov. 20 then fall into the mid-40s. There was a slight chance of rain showers through Nov. 22.

In Oxnard, CA, daytime temperatures were expected to fall into the upper 50s through Nov. 20 then return to the mid to upper 60s the week of Nov. 21. Overnight lows will range in the mid-40s to low 50s.

Daytime temperatures in Bakersfield, CA, were expected to rise gradually to 60 degrees by Nov. 22, and overnight lows should drop into the low 40s beginning Nov. 18.



Onion, russet and row crop shippers said that the Thanksgiving pull is drawing to a close and demand will be light the shipping week of Nov. 21.



The annual Christmas tree pull has started in the northwest and is compounding the problem of limited truck availability for russets and onions. Truck availability on the West Coast is adequate, and rates were expected to ease when the desert season begins the week of Nov. 21.

Crude oil prices increased $2.77 to $102.14 per barrel, which is 31 percent below record levels of July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of Nov. 14 was $3.99, which is 25 percent higher than a year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel is $4.27, or 28 percent higher than last year.



The lettuce transition from Huron to Yuma has been awkward and expensive. The transition will be complete and all lettuce shippers will be harvesting in the desert by Monday, Nov. 21.

The brief Huron season was scheduled to last one month and end Friday, Nov. 18. A Salinas lettuce shipper with operations in Huron, CA, and Yuma, AZ, recently stated, "The production of Huron lettuce was not evenly spaced. It bunched forward and produced heavier-than-usual supplies the first three weeks. Shippers were left with limited supplies the week of November 7 and were forced into the desert ahead of schedule or sit out nearly a week."

This awkward production pattern occurred during the Thanksgiving pull and lettuce prices spiked noticeably higher in a short period of time.

The quality of the desert's first lettuce fields was negatively affected by rain Nov. 12-14. Initial inspection reports suggest the first shipments contain some misshapen heads, light weights, and the possibility of pink ribs and bruising. Fields ready for the harvest the week of Nov. 21 should show improvement.

The Thanksgiving pull was slowing Nov. 15 was expected to end by Nov. 21. Today's fading demand means the current market cycle has topped out. Buyers can look forward to improving quality and more reasonable pricing the latter half of November.



The leaf transition from the Salinas Valley to Yuma was expected to occur the weekend of Nov. 19. Buyers will be able to load new-crop Romaine, Green Leaf, Red Leaf and Butter lettuce in the desert beginning Monday, Nov. 21. Initial quality in the desert will be an improvement over the last supplies from Northern California. Leaf prices spiked the week of Oct. 31 and the current market cycle has topped out. Price relief is expected with shipments the week of Nov. 21.

The Oxnard leaf season started in early November and shippers continue to quote their product with varying degrees of wind burn. Oxnard's volume will be less than the desert all winter season.



California's Central Coast shippers had heavy broccoli and cauliflower supplies through much of October due to moderate temperatures, which accelerated production and bunched together overall volume. Shippers are currently facing a significant production following the recent glut. Northern California supplies are thin and fading while the desert season is off to a slow and staggered start. The markets are terribly expensive and measurable relief is not expected until the week of Dec. 5 or Dec. 12.



California celery is currently available in Salinas, Santa Maria and Oxnard. Celery prices spiked the week of Nov. 7 with brisk Thanksgiving demand. The holiday pull is now over with the exception of western destinations. The market began to ease Nov. 15 and is expected to ease further into the week of Nov. 21.

The Salinas and Santa Maria seasons are on the verge of completion and Oxnard is in good position to pick up the slack and provide ample supplies into 2012. Oxnard will provide nearly 80 percent of the nation's winter celery supply, and supplies should be consistent until winter storms interrupt the harvest and temporarily decrease production. Looking down range, desert celery will start in early to mid-January.



The Salinas and Watsonville seasons are complete and Oxnard has not been able to compensate for the production decline. Oxnard supplies should continue to increase and eventually reach its modest peak the week of Dec. 5. Limited supplies from central Mexico are available for loading in Yuma, AZ. Overall, western shippers will continue to struggle with light production through December and the strawberry market is expected to hold at today's expensive levels until the New Year.



The harvest is complete in the greater Northwest and Colorado. Shippers now know the size profile within their storage facilities and will do their best to adhere to a scheduled release program.

Shippers said this year's Thanksgiving retail pull is strong. As expected, bale demand is very brisk while the large carton demand is a bit sluggish. This is the time of year that shippers pull from their cellars with a smaller size profile, which prevents packingsheds from building carton inventories. Shippers expect a temporary lull in retail demand after Thanksgiving then another charge beginning in early to mid-December for the Christmas rush. It is wise for foodservice carton buyers to plan well ahead this time of year.

Most Idaho sheds will pack Norkotahs through the remainder of the calendar year then switch to Burbanks during the winter months. Russet Burbanks are available now, but buyers should order in advance.

Truck availability is very limited and is in the process of tightening further. Northwest Christmas tree growers have a very narrow window to sell their trees and are willing to pay trucks top dollar to get their crop to market. Buyers should plan well ahead and load trucks as they become available.



Northwest growing conditions over the past several months have been well chronicled. The crop was delayed by cool temperatures through the early and mid periods of the growing season. Cold temperatures returned during the harvest accompanied by four different rains. This year's harvest was one of the latest over the past 30 years.

Despite all the recent struggles, today's jumbo yellow and red markets remain very reasonable. One theory is that growers want to run certain lots they feel are worthy now but may not have the legs to store.

A major shipper recently stated, "Today we're pleasantly surprised with quality. 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."

Truck availability is very limited and in the process of tightening further. Northwest Christmas tree growers have a very narrow window to sell their trees and are willing to pay trucks top dollar to get their crop to market. Buyers should plan well ahead and load trucks as they become available.



Central Valley Navel production is on the rise and early season quality is great. Packouts are 75 percent fancy and 25 percent choice. Peak sizes are 88s followed by 113s and 138s. Demand exceeds the supply of 56s and larger. Growers expect larger sizes in two to three weeks. Early-season Navels tend to be green so shippers use ethylene gas to enhance the color. Hanging fruit will produce more and more color as daytime temperatures continue to fall into mid-December. Daytime temperatures were expected to fall from the mid-60s to the mid-50s beginning Nov. 19.



Central Valley shippers offer new-crop lemons grown and harvested in the desert. Shippers are transporting the lemons in bulk to their Central Valley packing facilities. Offshore supplies are holding the domestic market steady at current levels. 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