Mike Hornick, Staff Writer
Mike Hornick, Staff Writer

Celery production has begun in California’s Salinas Valley, but for grower-shippers here, the bright spot of the vegetable market is broccoli and cauliflower.

It’s not a blinding brightness.

These aren’t Plato’s cave dwellers, exposed to sunlight for the first time, although maybe it feels that way sometimes.

“It was a rough spring for a lot of us in Salinas,” said Henry Dill, sales manager for Pacific International Marketing, Salinas.

“Where everybody got hurt was the lettuce crop in New Jersey and Canada. They came in May 1, a month early. It put a lot of East Coast buyers in a position where they couldn’t really help us. The freight savings alone is $7 or $8 a box. I can’t blame them. Mother Nature stepped in and did something to us.”

“It’s a pretty weak market,” said Sammy Duda, vice president of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Oviedo, Fla.

“We’ve been in an oversupply situation since late January.”

“There’s still a hangover from Oxnard,” Duda said, referring to celery.

“It was a little late and a real struggle to move the end of the crop. There’s definitely a preference to load out of Salinas with all the truck traffic up here.”

Broccoli and cauliflower offered some relief to grower-shippers.

On broccoli, 14-count cartons sold for $14.55-15.45 out of Salinas June 18, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Year-ago prices were about $9-10.50.

“Santa Maria’s acreage has been down and that caused a surge on broccoli in the last two weeks,” Dill said June 19.

“That might settle down in coming weeks. Cauliflower is the same, light spots. That deal has done a lot better than anybody thought this year.”

Lighter planting was by design, he said, anticipating competition from homegrown deals. Nevertheless, demand saw some upsurge.

“We didn’t see it coming,” Duda said.

“Broccoli and cauliflower are both surprisingly good markets. June is usually a good supply month. You don’t expect good markets. We’re just grateful.”

Celery season

A handful of Salinas Valley grower-shippers have started celery production, and more will follow as Oxnard’s annual 30-day moratorium on the crop starts July 15.

Duda Farm Fresh Foods began Salinas celery June 7, Duda said. He anticipates homegrown celery will start July 12 in Michigan, with Quebec soon after.

“We adjust for that,” said Duda.

“We have celery in Michigan. We don’t want to compete with ourselves.”

Pacific International Marketing planned to harvest its first organic celery hearts of the Salinas season June 23-24, Dill said.

The company relies on Santa Maria for conventional celery, and won’t start that in Salinas until early July.

Quality is excellent on early Salinas celery, Duda said.


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