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Fresh Directions

Daytime temperatures in Salinas, CA, were expected to range in the mid- to upper 60s through Aug. 28 with overnight lows in the mid-50s. Patchy morning and evening fog was forecast to persist through Aug. 28.

Continued hot and sunny days were predicted for Mendota, CA, through the remainder of August. Daytime temperatures were expected to range in the upper 90s through Aug. 28 with overnight lows in the low 60s.

TRANSPORTATION & FUEL

Demand for trucks in California remains steady. Freight rates are holding steady near current levels.

Crude oil prices increased modestly Aug. 22 to $97.40 per barrel, which is 34 percent below record levels of July 2008. The nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel the week of Aug. 20 was $4.03, which is 6 percent higher than one year ago. The average price in California for a gallon of diesel was $4.31, 10 percent higher than last year.

ROMAINE 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 homegrown leaf supplies from June through September.

The regional leaf deals in the Midwest and East Coast were hit with the hottest July since the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. The regional leaf crops continue to suffer from heat stress and are below normal production. Their leaf seasons will most assuredly conclude well ahead of schedule.

West Coast leaf shippers continue to report a strong increase in business from parts of the country that normally rely on regional growing areas into late September. Current Romaine prices are robust and very expensive. Even processors find themselves short of product and are actively buying extra Romaine acreage on the open market. Shippers sense it’s just a matter of time before an overwhelming surge in demand descends upon the West Coast and sends Romaine prices substantially higher.

CELERY

Michigan celery quality is fair at best and several shippers are struggling to meet contractual obligations. Total production is noticeably below normal and shippers expect an early conclusion to their season.

West Coast celery 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 surge in demand. West Coast shippers say that Michigan’s subpar production has diverted unexpected demand to California and pushed August prices far above historical levels. California shippers sense the pending early conclusion to the Michigan celery season will send another wave of unexpected to the West Coast and push celery prices considerably higher in September.

California’s summer celery market had been split based on loading districts. Current celery demand is strong enough that Santa Maria and Salinas shippers are able to sell at similar levels.

ICEBERG LETTUCE

The hottest July since the dust bowl era in the Midwest and eastern U.S. has primarily affected the leaf lettuce and celery markets. Iceberg lettuce growers and shippers have indirectly benefited from the strong leaf market through much of July and early August.

California’s 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 simply don’t have extra product to cover an expected surge in demand. The near-term leaf and celery markets are expected to surge and the Iceberg market will ride their coattails.

The Iceberg market was expected to hold firm and steady the week of Aug. 27 but has the potential to turn into a strong seller’s market if and when the Romaine market ignites.

STRAWBERRIES

Peak production from Watsonville, CA, and the Salinas Valley surprisingly extended into the latter portion of July. The anticipated decline in early August began at an accelerated pace. As expected, supplies should continue to decline into early September at which point production would be 50 percent of the July peak.

Not all fruit is equal and 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 expensive so Santa Maria shippers must be creative to lure orders and trucks away from the Salinas Valley.

Shippers say that strawberry sizing is small to medium. Despite the smaller fruit size, the strongest strawberry plants continue to produce full-flavored fruit with ample shelf life upon arrival. Shippers with the top-tier labels have pushed the market noticeably higher through most of August and expect additional price increases the last week of August and/or in early September.

BROCCOLI

West Coast broccoli supplies have been abundant since late July and the market has been very reasonable for several weeks. Ample supplies will continue through the balance of August. Overall quality is good and all packs, including Asian cut crowns, are plentiful.

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

MELONS

Westside shippers are experiencing brisk business and steady prices for the moment. The late August market is poised to rise because the Labor Day pull was to begin and coincide with production decreases in the regional growing areas. Shippers expect fairly steady production over the next 10 days.

Melon quality remains excellent with good color, netting and sugar levels. Daytime high temperatures in Mendota were forecast to range in the upper 90s through Aug. 28 with overnight lows in the low 60s.

ORANGES

It’s getting later in the summer season and the hot summer temperatures are affecting orange quality. Today’s Valencia oranges are softer than shippers would like to admit and the recent heat waves have caused chlorophyll to back-flush and cause re-greening.

The Valencia size profile is uncharacteristically large for late August and will likely continue to gain size through the remainder of the summer season. Demand for 113s and 138s far exceeds supply. Foodservice operators willing to switch to 88s will find a steady supply of fruit until the Navel crop starts in October.

LEMONS

California lemon supplies are plentiful and quality is strong. A full array of sizes in both grades is available. California shippers are competing with ample quantities of offshore fruit arriving at several U.S. ports. Buyers should be aware of the country of origin.

ONIONS

This is a challenging time of the year to follow the yellow and red onion markets. There are many moving pieces and the market can change quickly without much notice. There are several shipping districts with multiple shippers quoting onions in each district. Sizes will vary from area to area, and likely from shipper to shipper. Not all onions are created equal and receivers should not buy on price alone.

The New Mexico season is complete. California will continue for another two to four weeks depending on the pace of business. Keep in mind California onions have been through some periods of high temperatures. This is not necessarily bad but needs to be considered.

Ontario, OR, and Washington state onion shippers have direct seed yellow onions and volume will continue to increase into early September. Jumbo yellows in both areas are close to 70 percent 3.5 inches and larger. Early-season quality is very nice with good shelf time after arrival. The harvest will be complete in October then all shipments will come out of storage. Until then, onions are fresh and actively respiring. Flatbed trucks are a preferred mode of transportation because the highway wind whistles through the load and keeps the respiring onions dry. Receivers should keep their onions in a dry, well-ventilated area.

New-crop onions are also available from northeast Colorado. These jumbo yellows tend to be large. Quality is excellent and the shelf life upon arrival is ample. The Utah onion harvest will begin in early September.

The increasing production of Northwest yellow onions will only ease the overall market. Buyers should buy quantities that can comfortably be moved upon arrival.