IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Escaping damage from an early January freeze, buyers should expect ample volume for this spring’s Florida bell pepper crop.

A warm winter growing season helped produce favorable crops that should bring strong volume when spring production begins in April, grower-shippers report.

Spring production in Immokalee also began earlier than normal.

Utopia-Can-Am Pepper Co. LP, Madison, Wis., started its Immokalee harvesting Feb. 21 and planned to start its central Florida production April 1.

Jim Monteith, Utopia-Can-Am Pepper’s head of U.S. and Canadian sales, characterized the season as strong.

“From everything the growers are telling us, the crop looks excellent,” he said in late February. “It looks first class. It survived the cold well. The way the weather has been, with the warmer winter we’ve had, the Immokalee crop is starting 10 days early.”

Utopia-Can-Am Pepper plans to harvest peppers in Immokalee and central Florida through late May.

Calvert Cullen, president of Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., Cheriton, Va., characterized peppers as strong.

“The crop has been pretty good considering the weather we have had,” he said in mid-February. “The peppers have good dark color and thick walls. We would like to have had a better market than we have had.”


In mid-February, Cullen said growers were thankful the market increased to $12 for jumbos and extra large.

He said heavy Mexican volume in January kept markets to around $10.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in late February reported these prices for bell peppers from central and south Florida: 1 1/9 bushel cartons of jumbos and extra larges sold for $8.35-10.35, $8.35-8.85 for large, $7.35-8.35 for medium and $6.35-7.35 for irregular size and fair quality.

That’s lower than in mid-February when cartons of jumbos and extra larges sold for $11.35-12.35, $10.35-10.85 for large and $9.35-9.85 for medium.

Last year in late February, the USDA reported jumbos and extra larges sold for $42.85, large, $40.85 and medium, $36.85-38.85.

Excellent quality

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., called winter quality better than normal.

“The quality of the bells has been excellent,” he said in late February. “Normally during this time of year, it will have some issues with not making size or too much scarring from the heavy January and February winds or the shortness of the peppers.

“We have none of that this year. The peppers are absolutely gorgeous and are looking and yielding like fall peppers.”

Lytch said January and February peppers normally don’t produce as good sizings and shapes as other times of the year.

He said the early January freeze and mid-February cold didn’t harm the peppers.

For East Coast production, Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce Inc., Loxahatchee, said Palm Beach County is producing high-quality peppers.

“Overall, we have an excellent crop,” he said in late February. “For retailers, there has been a healthy mix of jumbos and extra larges. It is healthy, dark green and has ‘blocky’ thick walls making for an excellent box of fruit.”