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Light supplies, strong demand for strawberries

Weather

Yuma, AZ — Daytime temperatures should remain in the mid- to upper 80s through March 24, then ease into the upper 70s through March 27. Overnight lows were expected to remain in the low to mid-50s through March 24, and then ease into the upper 40s. There was no threat of rain in the near-term forecast.

Huron, CA — Daytime temperatures should remain in the mid-70s through March 22 then drop into the low to mid-60s through March 27. Overnight lows should range in the low to mid-40s. There was a 50 percent chance of rain March 24, followed by light showers March 25 and 26.

 

Demand

Strawberry shippers reported strong demand with light supplies. Lettuce and leaf shippers reported persistent minimal demand since the holiday season. Russet shippers reported demand is temporarily easing after a month of brisk sales. Northwest and Mexican onion shippers reported a burst in red onion demand and improving yellow onion sales.

 

Transportation & Fuel

Trucks are plentiful in California and Arizona. Rising fuel costs are pressuring freight rates higher. Rates should increase over the next one to two weeks as the lettuce deal moves north from Yuma to Huron.

Crude oil prices advanced $1.13 March 21 to $107.20 per barrel, which is 27 percent below record levels of July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of March 19 was $4.14, which was 6 percent higher than one year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel was $4.48 and 7 percent higher than last year.

 

Iceberg Lettuce

The spring lettuce transition from the desert to Huron is underway and should continue through the week of April 2. The first Huron lettuce was harvested March 16 and all shippers are expected to be working in Huron by March 30. March temperatures in the desert have been warm but not excessively hot, which will allow the desert lettuce season, if needed, to continue into early April.

The major foodservice processing plants will remain in the desert until April 9 while palletized carton lettuce will be available in Huron the week of April 2. Long-haul trucks may have to start early and drive many extra miles, or buyers will need to temporarily source product locally.

The near-term weather forecast calls for moderate to warm temperatures in the desert, and cooler temperatures in Huron with a chance of rain March 24 through 26. All in all, lettuce quality should remain sound in both the desert and Huron through the remainder of March. Near-term lettuce prices are expected to hold fairly steady assuming the weather forecasts are accurate.

Buyers are encouraged to plan ahead over the next few weeks because market and quality conditions can change rapidly without much advanced notice.

 

Leaf Lettuce

Mid- and late-March temperatures in the desert have been warm but not excessively hot. Desert leaf quality remains very strong and the season will easily continue into the weeks of March 26 and April 2. The Oxnard, CA, leaf season will continue well into the spring season. A few Huron shippers will soon offer leaf lettuce to complement their Iceberg lettuce. The Salinas leaf season is slated to start in early to mid-April. The near-term leaf market will remain very reasonably priced heading into the week of March 26.

 

Broccoli

Production continues to transition from the desert north to the Central Coast. Declining desert supplies are allowing local shippers to push broccoli prices noticeably higher. New-crop supplies from the Central Coast are compensating for the decline in the desert but a two-tier market has formed based on loading districts. The near-term market will remain firm and buyers will pay a premium to load broccoli in the desert. Broccoli quality is excellent in all West Coast growing areas.

 

Celery

The brief desert celery season will soon conclude and buyers must once again focus their purchases from Oxnard, which continues to produce the vast majority of the nation’s celery. The celery market is currently flat and very reasonably priced.

For now, celery quality in Oxnard is excellent with a good array of sizes from which to choose. The rumor mill is buzzing with talk of an early and large 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 could begin as early as the first week in April. 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. Looking down range, Santa Maria, CA, celery begins in May and Salinas, CA, in June.

 

Oranges

California’s Central Valley growers continue to struggle with the effects of the cold January temperatures. Fruit sizing is small for this late in the deal and is peaking on 88s and 113s instead of 72s and larger. Most shippers will not recover from this scenario through the remainder of the Navel season, which extends into late April. Some of the smaller shippers are already concluding their season. The Navel market is firming and may rise in the near term. Cooler temperatures and a chance of rain in the Central Valley return late week and this coming weekend.

 

Lemons

Oxnard’s March lemon production is thankfully early and large enough to compensate for the extremely early conclusion to the desert season. The transition north to Oxnard has been seamless and the combined production from Oxnard and the Central Valley is more than enough to meet current demand. 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.

 

Russets

Consumption of russets from processors (including frozen, dehy and flakers) has always been noticeably larger than the fresh industry. 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 with only 20 days. Recently, processors had just 34 days of product on hand. Strong processor demand has pushed fresh carton prices noticeably higher over the past four to six weeks.

Idaho fresh shippers reported an easing in demand after a month of solid gains. The fresh carton market has made substantial moves to the upside over the past four to six weeks and shippers suspect the pipeline is finally full of russets reflecting today’s higher prices. At least one Idaho shipper suggests this breather in the fresh market is temporary and prices will again push higher in the spring fueled by continuing strong processor demand.

 

Onions

Since late February, Northwest onion shippers reported improved demand and speculated prices were on the cusp of rising. Today, led by surging red prices, the overall onion market is strong and will likely run higher in the near term.

Texas shippers vividly remember last year’s market collision between the Mexican and Texas onion deals. The overlap of heavy supplies in March and early April led to excess supplies and poor markets. Texas shippers have done two things to avoid a repeat of last year’s glut. First, acreage under production in this year’s Texas crop is down 25 percent to 30 percent, and second, growers have planted a higher percentage of long-day varieties, which means the heavier production will be harvested mid and late season

The Mexican growing areas received 12 days of unwanted rain in February. The quantity and quality of onions crossing into the United States was inconsistent through much of late February and early to mid-March. Today’s quality crossing from Mexico is strong, but overall supplies are hit and miss. The strength in today’s revived market will remain intact until the domestic Texas crop reaches mid-season volume, which is not expected the second week of April. A gap between Mexican and Texas onions may occur the weeks of April 2, April 9 or both.

The end of the Ontario, OR, season is drawing to a close. Several shippers will continue to pack yellows and reds into the week of March 26, and only a few will continue into mid- or late April. Washington state shippers will have yellows and reds into late April or early May.