Warm weather is the norm when you grow crops for spring production in California’s Coachella Valley, but fluctuations are commonplace and crops react to those anomalies. Except when there aren’t any.
Area grower-shippers interviewed by The Produce News about this year’s spring deal sang the same song: a mild winter led to average growing conditions and average production. As producers of grapes, peppers, watermelons and sweet corn watched their crops mature in the April sunshine, they all spoke of predictable output this year, which might be a tad on the boring side but it’s great for promotion planning. In the cases of all four of those crops, there should be supplies that will allow for some May/June promotions by retailers.
Tony Bianco of Desert Fresh Inc., located in the city of Coachella, echoed the sentiments, if not the exact words, of everyone who was contacted. He noted that there were no extremely cold days nor were there any very hot days for growers to contend with in the January through March time period when the annual crops were taking root and the grape vines were sprouting leaves and fruit buds. He apologized for the “boring” report, but noted that grape shipments should start on time during the first week of May, start to hit their stride in mid-May and offer promotional opportunities for the Memorial Day weekend and throughout June.
The grape season typically lasts into July with predictably high temperatures marking an end to the season. As he spoke in mid-April, 80-90 degree temperatures were predicted for the following two weeks. But Bianco knows well enough that come July the mercury will rise into the 100s on a daily basis. When it starts inching pass 110 degrees it will signal the end of the grape season. It typically tops out in the 115 range but it has been known to climb to as high as 123, which is not a good temperature for the living, be they human or plant.
Chance Kirk of Vincent B. Zaninovich & Sons Inc., which is headquartered in the San Joaquin Valley city of Delano but also has a grape deal in the Coachella Valley, said reports have been of good growing conditions this year. He said the result is a grape crop that is expected to be a little light with the earliest fruit harvested, but should return to normal before mid-season. He predicted promotable supplies throughout June leading to an almost seamless transition to the San Joaquin Valley crop in July.
Andy Economou of Tastyfrutti International Inc. in Philadelphia heads to Coachella Valley every May to help sell the Tudor Ranch deal. He said this year’s crop looks good and on-time. He noted that the Flame Seedless that Tudor has will start on May 7 with good volume. Economou said it appears as if the season will start off with a strong market. He said prices on Chilean grapes were declining a bit in mid-April causing shipments from that South American country to decrease or cease. When new fresh grapes from California are available in early May, he believes the market will start off strong and retailer action will be brisk. “I think we will start in the high $20s on the Flames,” he said April 18, adding that the red grapes currently on the market were trading much lower than that.
Mike Way of Prime Time International, which is also headquartered in Coachella, said May and June should bring good supplies of colored peppers as well as watermelons and sweet corn. Each of those crops is perfectly suited for the warm desert temperatures that will be commonplace for their approximately eight-week long seasons. He was especially boastful of the watermelon crop noting that it appeared to be particularly heavy this year.
Both sweet corn and watermelon are seasonal crops for Prime Time, which is well known as a year-round pepper specialist. Way said the corn and melons will be sold closer to home while Prime Time will ship the peppers throughout the United States.