Daytime temperatures in Huron, CA, were expected to remain in the mid-60s through April 6 before climbing into the mid- to upper-70s through April 10. Overnight lows were expected to range in the mid-30s to 40 degrees through April 5 then rise into the upper 40s through April 10.
In Salinas, CA, daytime highs were expected to range in the low to mid-60s through April 6 then nudge into the mid- to upper 60s through April 10.
Northwest, Mexican and Texas onion shippers report fierce red onion demand and rising yellow onion sales. Lettuce and leaf shippers are continuing to experience moderate demand. Russet shippers are seeing moderate demand after several weeks of brisk sales.
TRANSPORTATION & FUEL
Trucks remain plentiful in California. Rates are higher because the desert season is complete and trucks must now load in Salinas and Huron. The transition from Yuma to Salinas adds 400 miles on a load of produce headed to the East Coast.
Crude oil prices fell $2.58 April 4 to $101.44 per barrel, which is 31 percent below record levels of July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of April 2 was $4.14, or 4 percent higher than one year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel was $4.46, about 3 percent higher than last year.
The spring lettuce transition from the desert to Huron is essentially complete. All Huron shippers are in operation and the last desert fields will be harvested by April 6. The brief Huron deal will continue through the weeks of April 9 and April 16. The last of the major foodservice processing plants will begin operations in Salinas on Monday, April 9, and initially utilize Huron lettuce.
Quality in Huron has improved with each passing week and every new block of lettuce. The near-term weather forecast in Huron calls for daytime temperatures in the mid-60s through April 6 then a rise into the mid to upper 70s through April 10. Assuming dry weather, the quality of lettuce for the remainder of the Huron deal will be nice.
The first Salinas Valley lettuce will be harvested between April 14-16. All Salinas lettuce shippers will be working by Monday, April 23. Current two-week forecasts suggest initial quality from Salinas will be clean with good weights, color and shelf life.
Current demand for lettuce is moderate at best, and the market is very reasonably priced. Buyers are encouraged to plan ahead over the next few weeks because spring weather, markets and quality conditions can change rapidly without much notice.
Leaf lettuce remains in the same transition pattern as Iceberg lettuce. Romaine, Green Leaf, Red Leaf and Butter are available to load with lettuce in Huron. The Huron leaf deal will continue through the week of April 16. The Salinas leaf deal is expected to begin the week of April 9, with all shippers working by the week of April 23.
Huron quality is very good and the leaf markets are very reasonable. Buyers are encouraged to plan ahead over the next few weeks because weather, markets and quality conditions can change rapidly without much advanced notice.
The transition from the desert to California’s Central Coast is complete. Supplies from Salinas and Santa Maria are ample and early-season quality is excellent. Buyers have a wide selection of sizes from which to choose, including good availability of Asian-cut broccoli crowns. The market is very reasonable and will hold near current levels heading into the week of April 9.
The brief desert celery season is over and buyers must once again focus their purchases from Oxnard, CA, which produces the vast majority of the nation’s celery. The celery market is currently flat but on the verge of a potentially steep rise.
Late-winter celery quality in Oxnard was excellent with a good array of sizes from which to choose. Oxnard growers and shippers warn that April celery has a substantial seeder problem. Seeders naturally occur mid-spring when the interior portion of the stalk pushes upward and outward to reproduce. Oxnard growers are alarmed that this season’s seeder problem is starting the first week in April and fear that it will increase in severity as May approaches.
Growers combat seeders by entering the fields early before the stalks push. The result is typically higher celery prices due to decreases in both production volume and stalk size. Buyers should expect declining supplies of the large celery stalks and near term prices to rise. Looking down range, Santa Maria celery begins in May and Salinas in June.
More rain fell the last week of March in the Central Valley and further tightened thinning Navel supplies. Fewer shippers hold the declining number of late-season Navels. Prices are firm and availability is tight.
The pending transition from Navels to Valencias is expected to begin the week of April 9 and Valencia supplies will improve weekly into early May. The upcoming Valencia crop will offer less volume than last year. Valencias will initially have a higher-than-usual percentage of choice grade fruit, and foodservice sizes, 88s through 138s, will be plentiful.
Current lemon production is ample and supplies are plentiful in California. Sooner rather than later the annual spring rise in demand will push lemon prices higher. Overall quality is strong with good shelf life. Long-haul trucks need to load lemons in Oxnard or the Central Valley. The recent rains had little impact on the availability, quality and price of lemons.
Texas shippers planted 30 percent fewer acres than last year and a March 29 storm in south Texas effectively reduced the available acreage by another 10 percent. In all, Texas has 40 percent fewer onion acres this year compared to 2011.
The March 29 storm in south Texas was massive. Rainfall ranged from two to seven inches, depending on the exact location. One ranch reported hail was piled six inches high, with winds reaching 70 mph.
Reports of lost acreage vary between 1,000 acres to as high as 2,000 acres. The best guess is 1,000 acres suffered heavy losses. Shippers can only wait and see if blight (a disease from excessive moisture) will raise its ugly head and further reduce the size of the crop.
The Texas onion season is getting off to a slow and stuttered start while Mexican supplies are limited and fading. The onion market has a vast amount of momentum and an increasing likelihood of a strong seller’s market the month of April. The onion market is fragile and has the potential to increase rapidly without notice. Near-term Texas prices will be volatile and trade in a wide range based on quality.
Onion buyers will need to rely on Northwest onions deeper into the early spring. The Ontario, OR, season is in the process of winding down. Some shippers will continue to pack reds into mid-April and yellows into late April. Washington state shippers will have reds into mid- to late April and yellows into May.
Idaho’s fresh shippers saw a third week of moderate demand after a solid gains late January into early March. Shippers suspect moderate consumer bale demand for Easter (April 8) has kept carton inventories from building and prevented weakness in the carton market.
One Idaho shipper suggested that this “breather” in the fresh market is temporary and prices will push higher later in the spring fueled by continuing strong processor demand.
Consumption of russets by processors (including frozen, dehy and flakers) is historically larger than the combined foodservice and retail sectors. Processor purchasing habits continue to have a significant influence on the price of fresh russets paid by foodservice distributors and retail outlets. Processors like to keep a 60-day supply of russets on hand and they started this season this past autumn with only a 20-day supply. Recently, processors had just 34 days of product on hand.