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Fresh Directions

Salinas Valley lettuce shippers were experiencing inconsistent demand from day to day. Leaf shippers were seeing continued good demand from areas of the nation that normally rely on regional growing areas during the summer season. Westside melon shippers were seeing fairly good demand.

WEATHER

Daytime temperatures in Saliinas, CA, were expected to range in the upper 60s through July 31 with overnight lows in the mid-50s. Patchy morning and evening fog was predicted through July 29.

Daytime temperatures in Huron, CA, were expected to range in the mid- to upper 90s through July 31 with overnight lows in the low to mid-60s.

In Las Cruces, NM, daytime highs were forecast to range from the upper 90s through July 31 with overnight lows in the low to mid-70s. There is a 30-40 percent chance of daily showers and thunderstorms through July 30.

TRANSPORTATION & FUEL

Crude oil prices increased modestly July 25 to $88.90 per barrel, which is 40 percent below record levels of July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of July 23 was $3.78, which is 4 percent lower than one year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel is $3.98 and 4 percent lower than last year.        

ICEBERG LETUCE

The persistent hot weather in the Midwest and eastern United States has primarily affected leaf lettuce and celery. Iceberg lettuce growers and shippers have indirectly benefited from the strong leaf market through much of July. This secondary demand has helped support and maintain positive returns to California’s Central Coast farming operations.

Lettuce prices going forward remain a function of how badly the eastern leaf crop is damaged, how long it will take to recover, and how long the heat persists. Iceberg lettuce prices were expected to hold fairly steady near current levels heading into the week of July 30.

Central Coast lettuce growers purposefully reduce their lettuce acreage during the height of the summer season when West Coast melons, grapes and soft fruit are plentiful. Shippers are keeping a watchful eye on the local weather pattern and fog in particular. History tells us persistent heavy and wet fog will increase the degree of fringe burn and eventually reduce yields. Coupled with fewer acres under production, reduced yields can result in rising lettuce prices. For now, Iceberg quality is strong with good weights, texture and shelf life upon delivery.

LEAF LETTUCE

California’s Central Coast shippers purposely reduce their leaf acreage during the summer because of competition from melons, grapes and stone fruit. As well, Canada and several U.S. regions offer local leaf supplies during the summer.

Through most of July the regional leaf deals have been hit with excessive heat, which has diverted a healthy surge of unexpected demand back to the West Coast. The leaf markets spiked practically overnight in early July because California shippers simply don’t have the supplies to cover the expected and unexpected demand.

The full extent of the damage remains unknown. Only time will tell us the degree of the damage and how long it will take regional growers to recover. Additional hot temperatures will only lengthen the recovery period and maintain high prices.

STRAWBERRIES

Production in Watsonville, CA, and the Salinas Valley reached the season’s peak the week of July 16. Supplies are expected to gradually slide into mid-August then fall noticeably in the latter half of August.

Not all fruit is equal and therefore buyers must choose carefully. There is a wide range in price based on labels and whether the fruit loads in Salinas or Santa Maria, CA. Truck rates are very expensive so Santa Maria shippers must be creative to lure orders and trucks away from the Salinas Valley.  

The top-label shippers say berry sizing is on the decline. Despite the smaller fruit size, the strawberry plants continue to produce lots of full-flavored fruit with ample shelf life upon arrival. The top-tier labels are expected to increase modestly in price the week of July 30. Pricing on the labels at the other end of the spectrum will hold steady into early August.

BROCCOLI

West Coast broccoli supplies rise and fall during the summer season based on the fluctuations in temperature. The ebb and flow of production rolls along like a roller coaster, which in turn affects the market.

Supplies late June through July 20 were abundant and the market was very attractive. Production is just beginning the next round of decreased availability. The bunch 14-count and crown markets are reacting higher as consistent sales meet falling supplies. Receivers can expect to pay higher prices heading into early August. Asian crown buyers should plan well ahead and place their orders early.            

CELERY

The persistent hot temperatures in the Midwest continue to stress the Michigan and Canadian celery crops and the degree of damage remains unknown. Unexpected demand swung back to the West Coast in early July and sales to date remain active.

Midwest and Eastern receivers continue to supplement their needs with celery from Salinas and Santa Maria. The delivered price difference between California and the local source is extremely wide. Many receivers are lured by the vast savings of local product despite the likelihood of less quality.          

Keep in mind that West Coast growers purposely reduce their summer acreage so they don’t have to compete with the regional deals. California shippers simply don’t have the availability of product to cover an unexpected large rise in demand. The West Coast celery market will remain expensive until the regional celery growing districts work through the heat stress issues.

The California celery market is split based on loading districts. Truck rates are terribly expensive so Santa Maria shippers must be creative to lure orders and trucks away from the Salinas Valley.                                

MELONS

This remains an excellent time to highlight California cantaloupes and honeydews from Mendota and Firebaugh. Daytime temperatures were expected to range in the mid- to upper 90s through July 31 with overnight lows in the low 60s. Melon quality is excellent with good color, netting and sugar levels. The near-term market should hold steady and the size profile should continue to lean toward 9s followed by 12s heading into the week of July 30. There is a fairly good range in sizing including cantaloupe 15s.

Shippers sense the West Coast market will rise in August because the hot Midwest summer will force an early conclusion in the regional growing areas such as Indiana.

Generally speaking, melons mature faster than they can grow when the temperatures get hot. Conversely, mild temperatures reduce the rate of maturity and allow the melon to gain size. Hence, hot temperatures tend to produce smaller sizes and moderate temperatures tend to produce larger melons.  

Interstate 5 runs north and south through the center of California’s San Joaquin Valley. The term Westside refers to the agricultural growing district west of interstate I-5. This includes the towns of Mendota, Firebaugh and Los Banos where melons are the predominant summer crop. Fresno lies to the east of I-5 where grapes and soft fruit flourish during the summer season. Long-haul trucks can drive from Salinas to Mendota in two hours and to Fresno in three hours.              

ORANGES

Hot summer temperatures in California’s Central Valley cause chlorophyll to back-flush in Valencia oranges and create a green cast on the outer skin. This is cosmetic only and does not affect the eating quality in anyway. The current harvest offers excellent quality with high sugars. The Valencia size profile will continue to get larger as the summer season continues. This will gradually apply more pressure to the availability and cost of 113s and 138s. For now, there is good availability of 88s and larger. Foodservice buyers in need of 113s and 138s should plan early and stay ahead of inventories.

LEMONS

The Central Valley harvest is complete and Oxnard, CA, growers have harvested at least 75 percent of their crop. Overall quality is excellent. A full array of sizes in both grades is available. Seasonal lemon demand is brisk. The vast majority of California’s lemon supplies are in Oxnard. A few shippers are transferring product to the Central Valley.

ONIONS

Production from New Mexico just can’t seem to gain traction and California’s availability is temporarily hit-and-miss. The result is shippers in both districts report below par supplies and brisk sales.

Jumbo yellow prices are firm with the potential to rise further. There is a split jumbo yellow market in New Mexico based on the percentage of onions over 3.5 inches in diameter. Buyers must clearly know the sizing of onions and cannot buy on price alone. A New Mexico shipper recently stated, “Everyone is seven to 10 days ahead of schedule and there is not a lot of size remaining in the crop, which continues into mid August.” The jumbo red market is also gaining strength because, for the first time in quite a while, California is not plugged with excess volume.  

Washington state was to start summer onions July 30. Production will be somewhat inconsistent until shippers begin to harvest storage varieties in mid- to late August.

The preferred mode of transportation is a flatbed truck, which allows the highway wind to whistle through the load and keep the respiring onions dry. A seasoned driver will fold the ends of the tarp towards the middle of the load during dry weather and cover the entire load when there is a chance of rain.  

RUSSETS

Northwest and Colorado shippers are in transition from old- to new-crop russets. Idaho shippers will continue to ship old-crop Burbanks into early August and overlap new-crop Norkotahs, which start the week of July 30 from the center and western portion of the state. The Idaho Burbank harvest will start in early September. Washington state shippers will begin to harvest new-crop Norkotahs the week of July 30. Colorado shippers anticipate harvesting new-crop Norkotahs from Greeley, CO, the week of Aug. 6 and from the San Luis Valley in early September.

The next few weeks will begin to answer the annual host of questions about the upcoming storage crop. What is the size profile? What are the yields? Might there be any long-term issues such as hollow heart? In the meantime, buyers should keep in mind that there will be an overlap between old- and new-crop russets from Idaho. Receivers insisting on Burbanks must realize supplies available in August were harvested early last autumn.

The market on new-crop russet Norkotahs will command a premium over the last remaining old crop Burbanks. Generally speaking, the russet market heading into early and mid-August is expected to remain attractively priced.