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California Navels running at full capacity, have superb quality


Daytime highs in Yuma, AZ, were expected to range in the low 70s to upper 60s through Jan. 17, with overnight lows in the low 40s. There is no threat of frost or rain in the near-term forecast.

In Oxnard, CA, daytime highs were expected to range in the mid- to upper 60s through Jan. 14 then drop into the upper 50s. Overnight lows in the mid-40s through Jan. 14 were expected, before dropping into the low 40s. There is no threat of rain or frost in the near-term forecast.

In Bakersfield, CA, daytime highs were expected to range in the mid-60s through Jan. 15, then drop into the upper 50s. Overnight lows were expected to be in the low to mid-30s. There is no threat of rain in the near-term forecast.



Row crop and onion shippers are seeing light demand, and russet shippers should experience good carton and modest bale demand.



Trucks are plentiful in California and Arizona, and rates have eased modestly since the holiday rush.

Crude oil prices fell $1.35 Jan. 11 to $100.89 per barrel, which is 31 percent below record levels of July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of Jan. 9 was $3.83, or 15 percent higher than a year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel is $4.11, which is 17 percent higher than last year.



The long stretch of cold December weather in the desert has been replaced by above-freezing overnight temperatures and daytime high in the low to mid-70s. The mild weather was expected to continue until at least Jan. 17.

Desert lettuce shippers continue to quote all Iceberg sales with epidermal blister and peel. The degree of peel will decline as the harvest moves further away from the last freeze. A major lettuce shipper in Yuma recently said, “Assuming the mild weather continues, we will have worked through all the frost damaged lettuce by January 20 and will harvest frost-free lettuce beginning the week of January 23.”

Desert shippers foresee ample supplies of Iceberg lettuce into late January. Assuming the absence of cold or harsh weather, lettuce quality will soon improve and the market should remain very reasonably priced heading into the weeks of Jan. 16 and Jan. 23.



Romaine and Green Leaf supplies remain adversely affected by the stretch of cold weather in December. Like Iceberg lettuce, the softer leaf items suffer from epidermal blister and peel. There is no head for the outer leaves of Romaine and Green Leaf to protect. Removal of the frost-injured outer leaves sacrifices a good portion of the open plant, and the result is lightweight product and reduced yields.

Shippers processing Romaine and Green Leaf into fillets and washed product are forced to harvest more acreage to meet their raw product needs. The leaf markets have recently strengthened because processors are competing on the open market for additional Romaine and Green Leaf supplies.

Leaf buyers have Oxnard as an alternative source. Oxnard’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean kept its December overnight temperatures warmer than the desert. Oxnard shippers have leaf lettuce without blister and peel.

Unfortunately, Oxnard’s total leaf supply is far less than the collective desert and does not offer any market relief. Buyers can expect Oxnard leaf to command a premium heading into the week of Jan. 16.



The long stretch of cold weather in December delayed production in the desert. Supplies were limited and prices were terribly expensive during the recent holiday pull. Production that was designed to supply the Christmas rush is currently ready for harvest. Broccoli supplies now far surpass demand and the market is once again priced very reasonably. Broccoli quality from the desert is exceptional and a full array of broccoli packs, including Asian crowns, are plentiful. This is a wonderful time to highlight California and Arizona broccoli.



A large majority of the nation’s January celery is grown and shipped from Oxnard, CA. The stretch of cold weather throughout much of December stifled production and created the wide range in prices currently seen on the market. The cold weather reduced stalk sizing, which has placed a premium on 18s and to a lesser extent 24s. Growers continue to have an unusually high percentage of 30s, and some shippers are dealing on block purchases. Some shippers are harvesting half-days in an effort to allow the celery extra time to grow. Oxnard shippers said that ground temperatures must rise before production can return to normal.

The celery market was expected to hold firm at current levels into the week of Jan. 16. Buyers loading celery in Yuma will pay a premium for product but will save freight costs by not loading in the north. The desert celery season is just about to begin. Overall production from the desert is light in comparison to Oxnard and will have little influence on the overall market.



This is a great time to highlight Navel oranges from California. Quality is superb and production is running at full capacity. Color is naturally full color with Brix between 11 and 12. Packouts are 75 percent fancy and 25 percent choice. Peak sizes are 88s followed by 72s and then 113s. Sizing will gradually increase into late January. Neither freezing temperatures nor rain were expected to be a concern through at least Jan. 17.



Desert lemon production remains 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 will be increasingly felt as February approaches. A Yuma lemon shipper recently stated, “Supplies of 165-count and smaller are limited.”

A major West Coast shipper recently increased prices on choice 165s and 200s. Currently, lemon prices are steady and firm. Fruit is available for loading in the desert, Oxnard and the Central Valley. Buyers willing to load independent fruit in Yuma may find savings. Oxnard’s sizable crop should begin in late January and provide good supplies by early March.



Demand from processors, whose consumption is noticeably larger than the fresh industry, remains brisk and is helping support fresh prices. An Idaho shipper recently stated, “The current fresh market is very reasonable [inexpensive] for receivers and consumers. I don’t want to ponder what fresh prices would be if processor demand was slow.”

The overall fresh market is expected to hold fairly steady through January and most of February. Some shippers sense the market has the ingredients to push higher beginning in March.

The Burbank variety continues to command a premium over Norkotahs. More and more Idaho sheds will switch from Norkotahs to Burbanks as the spring approaches. The Burbank size profile is smaller than Norkotahs, which will likely place a premium on large cartons in the spring and summer.

Truck availability remains limited and rates are expensive. Buyers should plan well ahead and load trucks as they become available.



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 harvest, which was completed in early November, was one of the latest in the past 30 years.

Shippers throughout the Northwest are perplexed by the lack of demand and resulting low prices. Given the pending issues in storage, one would think shippers could slow down the pace of packing, match today’s poor demand and stretch out the remaining supplies.

One theory is that growers want to run certain lots they feel are worthy today but may not have the legs to store deep into the shipping season.

A major shipper recently stated, “We remain pleasantly surprised with the quality in many cellars. Ask us again in late January and February. Not everything is going to keep. Odds are, we’ll discover some negative surprises resulting in higher-than-usual shrink rates. For now, all we can do is wait and see.”

The near-term yellow and red onion markets should hold fairly steady and remain very reasonable heading into mid-January. This is a good time to buy because yellow and red prices can’t get much lower. Today’s white onion market has a wide range of price based on color and quality.

Longer range, the onion market from January through March will be largely influenced by the amount of shrink in storage.


Bill Armstrong is a self-employed produce broker who operates Armstrong Marketing in Salinas, CA. He may be reached by phone at 888/484-0800 or by e-mail at