California’s weather outside is frightful

12/16/2011 08:53:00 AM
Don Schrack

Weather couldn’t care less about the recession, about families’ pinching pennies to get through the holidays.
With gift and food prices straining household budgets, the weather grinch paid a visit — even before December was a week old — to acres and acres of vegetables in the usually warm California desert.
“We had seven consecutive days of ice,” said Mark McBride, sales manager for Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce. 
“When you get that many cold nights in succession, the ground itself gets very cold.”
Growing of everything in the Coachella and Imperial valleys screeched to a halt — everything: broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, lettuce. 
Harvesting had to wait until the ice thawed — a loss of up to five harvest hours a day for the Coastline crops, McBride said. 
Fewer picking hours translates to lower volume and skyrocketing prices.
“Items are going to remain snug right through Christmas,” McBride said.
The prognosis for the rest of the month does not lend itself to optimism.
“It’s going to take several above normal (temperature) days just to get this thing back in balance,” McBride said.
Asparagus, avocados
A few hundred miles north of the desert:
With the harvest start still a few months away, chilly temperatures are comfy for the asparagus deal in the Stockton area. 
But retailers shouldn’t get too excited. 
Grower-shippers are reporting fewer acres of asparagus, which should mean higher prices and less profit margin come March, April and May.
On the other hand, look for a little f.o.b. softening of California avocados next season. 
After 2011’s low volume, the U.S Department of Agriculture is estimating a bounce back 2012 with harvesting expected to get serious earlier — probably in April.
Making spirits bright
Unlike Mother Nature, grower-shippers in California, where December is “Farm to Food Bank” month, are full of holiday spirit. 
As trailer after trailer continue to offload at food banks around the state, donations from the ag community and food processors this year will exceed 100 million pounds, according to the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture, and there are plans to double farm donations within five years.
Sort of makes one feel warm and fuzzy as the holidays near, even despite that Grinch-like Mother Nature.
dschrack@thepacker.com
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