For a while, shipping prices reached into the low $30s for a carton of two dozen. By May 24 most ran $23.45-25.50, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Year-ago prices were $7.45-9.64.
It was the worst bout of seeders in four or five years, said Russ Widerburg, sales manager of Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms Inc.
Celery can’t be packed if seeder length exceeds 2.5 times the width of the stalk, roughly 6 inches if the butt is 2.5 inches wide.
This year 8- to 9-inchers were common, taking crop off the market.
Florida finished by early May. As California’s troubles mounted, a market accustomed to 115,000 daily units hovered between 70,000 and 80,000, Widerburg said.
But there are signs of relief.
“We’re gradually easing back into the mid-teens here,” Widerburg said May 28.
“I’m not sure if it’s going to settle or continue downward. There’s plenty of celery for the short term. We’ve got big sizes in the cooler and more coming. With freight rates as high as they are, I don’t see any reason why there’s going to be a shortage.”
Boskovich Farms finishes celery in mid-June. Production in Oxnard is limited by a July 15 growing moratorium, but most shippers are done before the end of June.
Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Oviedo, Fla., expects to start Salinas, Calif., celery production by June 10, said Sammy Duda, vice president. The grower-shipper anticipates a brief overlap with Oxnard.
“Because the market was so high, most people cut ahead a bit,” Duda said May 28.
“So once the seeders subsided, yields remained low because sizing was down and markets were tremendous, but days got longer and fields sized up better. Some extra acres planted for the end of the Oxnard deal have come on. The market’s still very good but supplies are definitely better than they were a week or two ago.”
Even so, there are uncertainties about the transition to Salinas.
“Most Salinas crops started behind schedule, and I think you’ll see the same on celery,” Duda said.
“Sizing should be off somewhat and there are probably a few seeders up here as well. I don’t think it will be as acute as it was three weeks ago, but I’m not expecting a normal, easy transition, either.”