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Row-crop supplies have been reduced below the existing levels of moderate demand

WEATHER

Yuma, AZ — The recent stretch of overnight freezing temperatures continued through Dec. 8. Daytime highs were expected to range in the low to mid-60s Dec. 9 through Dec. 13 with overnight lows in the mid- to upper 30s. Rain was not a threat into mid-December.

Oxnard, CA — Daytime temperatures were forecast to range in the mid-60s through Dec. 13 with overnight lows in the low to mid-40s. Rain was not a threat into mid-December.

Bakersfield, CA — A stretch of overnight freezing temperatures continued through Dec. 8. Daytime highs were expected to range in the upper 50s to low 60s through Dec. 13 with overnight lows in the mid-30s. Rain was not a threat into mid-December.

 

DEMAND

Row-crop shippers have indicated that the recent period of cold temperatures has reduced supplies below the existing levels of moderate demand. Onion and russet shippers have seen modest to moderate demand.

 

TRANSPORTATION & FUEL

The annual Christmas tree pull continued in the Northwest in early December and was compounding the problem of limited truck availability for russets, onions and apples. Truck availability on the West Coast has been adequate. Rates have eased on trucks loading in the desert and traveling to the East Coast.

Crude oil prices fell $1 Dec. 7 to $100.48 per barrel, which is 32 percent below the record levels of July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of Dec. 5 was $3.93, which was 23 percent higher than a year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel in early December was $4.17, which was 24 percent higher than last year.

 

ICEBERG LETTUCE

The Iceberg lettuce-growing region in the Southwest deserts experienced overnight freezing temperatures Dec. 4-8. Temperatures in the outlying areas of Yuma dipped into the mid-20s for periods long enough to cause heavy to severe “lettuce ice.”

The nearly weeklong cold snap caused considerable damage to the Iceberg lettuce crop ready for immediate harvest. Buyers should brace their sales forces and customer bases to expect epidermal peel, pale color, light weights, reduced shelf life and decreased yields beginning with arrivals the week of Dec. 12.

Overall production has fallen considerably and well below the existing levels of demand. The weather-induced shortage caused shippers to sell out of lettuce Dec. 6-8. The lettuce market has advanced considerably since late November. Only time will tell if the pending Christmas rush, expected to begin the week of Dec. 12, will be strong enough to support the new price levels.

The good news is the near-term weather forecast in the desert calls for overnight temperatures to rise above freezing. Overnight temperatures Dec. 9-13 were forecast to range in the mid- to upper 30s with daytime highs in the mid-60s. However, the damage is done and the ill effects of the recent cold snap will be felt well into December in the forms of reduced quality and expensive prices.

 

LEAF LETTUCE

The leaf lettuce-growing region in the Southwest deserts experienced overnight freezing temperatures Dec. 4-8. Temperatures in the outlying areas of California’s Coachella Valley and Yuma dipped into the mid-20s for periods long enough to cause heavy to severe “lettuce ice.”

The nearly weeklong cold snap has caused considerable damage to the leaf lettuce crop ready for immediate harvest. Buyers should brace their sales forces and customer bases to expect epidermal peel, pale color, light weights, reduced shelf life and decreased yields beginning with arrivals the week of Dec. 12.

The leaf markets have risen in price but are not as active as Iceberg lettuce. One reason is leaf lettuce is also available in Oxnard, where the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean minimized the threat of a hard freeze. The overall leaf market will ride the coattails and trail the Iceberg lettuce market through the remainder of December.

 

BROCCOLI

Broccoli production from the desert was already light before the cold snap arrived Dec. 4 and continued through the morning of Dec. 8. Overnight freezing temperatures reached the mid- to upper 20s in the outlying growing areas near Yuma and California’s Imperial Valley.

Supplies were light and the broccoli market had upward momentum before the cold weather arrived. Broccoli prices on Dec. 8 were considerably higher compared to the week of Nov. 28. The pending Christmas rush, which will start the week of Dec. 12, will keep pressure on the market and likely support higher prices.

 

CELERY

The California celery market is reacting swiftly to the conclusion of the Salinas, CA, season and cold weather in Oxnard, which is reducing local production, by trending higher. The Oxnard celery market began to push noticeably higher Dec. 7 and continued to rise through Dec. 9. The Christmas rush, which starts the week of Dec. 12, will keep pressure on the market and likely support higher price levels.

Oxnard is shipping the lion’s share of celery from the West Coast. The cold snap will reduce both total production and the average stalk size.

 

RUSSETS

The 2011 harvest has been complete for nearly six weeks, and shippers are packing storage supplies. Shippers 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 have said that this year’s Thanksgiving pull was strong. Post-Thanksgiving demand will remain soft until the Christmas rush starts in mid-December. The near-term market is holding 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 through 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. Buyers should plan well ahead and load trucks as they become available.

 

ONIONS

Growing conditions for the 2011 Northwest onion crop were less than favorable. Cool temperatures through the early and mid-periods of the growing season delayed the crop. 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 surprisingly is 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 and red onion markets will hold steady and remain very reasonable heading into mid-December. Today’s white onion market has a wide range of price based on color and quality. 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. Buyers should plan well ahead and load trucks as they become available.

 

ORANGES

Temperatures Wednesday morning, Dec. 7, fell as low as 24 degrees in the rural areas of Bakersfield and Fresno, CA. Many of these areas experienced low temperatures at or below 28 degrees for one to six hours. Central Valley Navel production is running at full capacity, and early-season quality is great with Brix ranging between 11 and 12. Color is much improved and will be full by the week of Dec. 12. Packouts are 75 percent fancy and 25 percent choice. Peak sizes are 88s followed by 72s and 113s. Growers expect sizing to gradually increase into January.

 

LEMONS

Desert lemon production is down as much as 75 percent due to the harsh freeze in February 2010. Desert supplies will be light throughout the abbreviated season, which will conclude in late January instead of the customary mid-March. The impact increasingly will be felt as February 2012 approaches. A Yuma lemon shipper recently stated, “Supplies of 115-count and smaller are very limited. We’re even tight on our peak sizes.”

Prices recently increased on all grades of 140-count and smaller. Buyers willing to load independent fruit in Yuma will find modest savings. Oxnard’s sizeable crop will begin in late January and provide good supplies by early March. The smaller Central Valley lemon crop has started and will increase modestly into January.

 

(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.)