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Onion, russet and row-crop shippers seeing moderate to light demand

WEATHER

Daytime highs in Yuma, AZ, were expected to fall from the upper 70s Nov. 30 to 60 degrees by Dec. 4. Daytime highs should nudge into the mid-60s by Dec. 6. High winds were expected Dec. 1-2 with gusts near 40 mph.  There was a 10-30 percent chance of isolated rain showers Dec. 1-3.

In Oxnard, CA, daytime temperatures were expected to range in the upper 60s to low 70s through Dec. 6, with overnight lows in the mid- to upper 40s. High winds were expected Dec. 1-2 with gusts upwards of 45 mph.  Rain was not in the near-term forecast.

Daytime temperatures in Bakersfield, CA, were expected to range in the mid- to upper 50s through Dec. 6. A cold air mass was expected to drop overnight lows into the mid-30s Nov. 30 through Dec. 6. Rain was not in the near-term forecast.

 

DEMAND

Onion, russet and row-crop shippers were seeing moderate to light post-Thanksgiving demand.

 

TRANSPORTATION & FUEL

The annual Christmas tree pull has started in the Northwest and is compounding the problem of limited truck availability for russets, onions and apples. Truck availability on the West Coast is adequate, and rates have eased on trucks loading in the desert and traveling to the East Coast.

Crude oil prices increased modestly Nov. 30 to $100.39 per barrel, which is 32 percent below record levels of July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of Nov. 28 is $3.96, which is 25 percent higher than one year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel is $4.22, or 27 percent higher than last year.

 

ICEBERG LETTUCE

The transition from northern California to the desert is complete and a sense of calm has returned to the lettuce industry. The lettuce market has dropped considerably since the week of Nov. 21 and has found a new trading range at very reasonable levels. Current quality from the desert is good with ample shelf life upon delivery.

The winter lettuce season is heavily influenced by Mother Nature. We have entered the time of year when large swings in weather can affect quality, production and price. The harsh freeze in early February 2011 and its negative impact on the lettuce industry that lasted nearly two months is still fresh in everyone’s mind.

The current weather forecast in the desert calls for daytime temperatures falling from the upper 70s Nov. 30 to just 60 degrees by Dec. 4. Strong winds from 14 to 28 mph were expected Nov. 30 through Dec. 2, with gusts as high as 39 mph. There was a moderate chance of rain in the desert Dec. 1-3, which may bring isolated showers.

Shippers foresee continued ample supplies through Dec. 7 followed by a production decrease of 10-15 percent. The lettuce market was expected to hold near current levels heading into the week of Dec. 5 then likely shift higher beginning Dec. 7-9.

 

LEAF LETTUCE

The leaf transition from Northern California to the desert is complete.  Buyers now have the option to load Romaine, Green Leaf, Red Leaf and Butter lettuce in Yuma, the Imperial Valley, the Coachella Valley and Oxnard. The leaf market has eased noticeably since the week of Nov. 21 and the current market is once again very reasonable. Buyers can expect good leaf quality and steady prices heading into the weeks of Dec. 5 and Dec. 12.

 

BROCCOLI

The awkward and staggered transition from Northern California to the desert is nearly complete. Desert shippers forecast much-improved supplies the weeks of Dec. 5 and Dec. 12. The broccoli market has eased since the conclusion of the Thanksgiving pull and is expected to remain reasonable heading into the Christmas rush, which begins the week of  Dec. 12. The week of Dec. 5 will be a good time to load and highlight Western broccoli from the California and Arizona deserts.

 

CELERY

Oxnard, CA, is shipping the lion’s share of celery from the West Coast.  Salinas and Santa Maria shippers are very close to the end of their seasons and their overall production is very light, while Mexican growers are crossing modest supplies into Yuma. Oxnard shippers are seeing excellent quality and the peak sizes are 24 and 30.

Shippers attribute today’s flat and very reasonable market to excess supply and heavy purchases during the Thanksgiving pull, which has led to light demand since Nov. 21. Shippers are optimistic that the Christmas rush will increase demand by the week of Dec. 12. Dec. 1-9 will be a good time to load and highlight excellent quality celery from California.

 

RUSSETS

The 2011 harvest is complete and the crop is in storage. Shippers now know the size profile within their storage facilities and will do their best to adhere to a scheduled release program through the summer of 2012.

Shippers saw a strong pull this Thanksgiving, but post-Thanksgiving demand, as expected, will be soft until the Christmas rush starts in mid-December. The near-term market will hold near current levels. The Burbank variety is commanding a premium over Norkotahs. Several Idaho sheds will pack Norkotahs into the New Year then switch to Burbanks during the winter months.

Truck availability has been limited since early autumn and has tightened considerably with the annual Christmas tree pull. Northwest Christmas tree growers have a very narrow window of time to sell their trees and are willing to pay trucks top dollar to get their crop to market. Complicating matters further, the availability of rail cars is down as much as 67 percent. Buyers should plan well ahead and load trucks as they become available.

 

ONIONS

Growing conditions for the 2011 Northwest onion crop were 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. The recent harvest, completed in early November, was one of the latest over the past 30 years.

Today’s jumbo yellow market is surprisingly very reasonable. One theory is that growers want to run certain lots they feel are worthy today but may not have the legs to store through the winter months.

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.”

The near-term yellow onion market will hold fairly steady heading into early December. Longer range, the onion market will be heavily influenced by the amount of shrink in storage.

Truck availability has been limited since early autumn and has tightened considerably with the annual Christmas tree pull. Northwest Christmas tree growers have a very narrow window of time to sell their trees and are willing to pay trucks top dollar to get their crop to market. Complicating matters further, the availability of rail cars in the northwest is down as much as 67 percent. Buyers should plan well ahead and load trucks as they become available.

 

ORANGES

Central Valley Navel production has increased considerably since mid-November and early-season quality is great. Color is much improved and Brix levels are 11 to 12. Packouts are 75 percent Fancy and 25 percent Choice. Peak sizes are 88s followed by 113s and 138s. Growers expect larger sizing over the next two to four weeks. Hanging fruit will produce additional color as daytime temperatures continue to fall into mid-December. Cold overnight temperatures expected Dec. 1-4 but should have little influence on the crop or market.

 

LEMONS

Desert lemon production will be down as much as 75 percent due to last February’s harsh freeze. Desert supplies will be light throughout the abbreviated season, which will conclude in late January instead of the customary mid-March. The impact will be increasingly felt as February 2012 approaches. A Yuma lemon shipper recently stated, “Supplies of 115 count and smaller are limited. We’re even tight on our peak sizes.”

Buyers willing to load independent fruit in Yuma may find noticeable savings. California’s Oxnard crop will begin in late January and provide good supplies by early March.

 

 

(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.)