IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Florida is known for producing smaller quantities of some vegetables during the fall and winter.
Grower-shippers from southwest Florida’s vegetable packing hub in Immokalee pack eggplant alongside the larger volumes of bell pepper and squash and in Belle Glade pack lettuce along with the bigger volumes of green beans and sweet corn.
Fall harvesting of Plant City eggplant typically starts in early November with Immokalee and south Florida production starting at a similar time with both areas ending in late December.
Eggplant at Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.’s field north of Immokalee, Fla.
Christian “Chris” Tordonato, sales manager for Florida Specialties Inc., said last season’s extreme cold killed the crop.
“The eggplant never materialized last year,” he said. “The cold weather got it. We lost 100% of our eggplant crop.”
Gerry Odell, chief operating officer of farming and packing for the Lipman Family Cos., which grows and packs tomatoes and vegetables through Six L’s Packing Co. Inc. and Custom Pak, said eggplant’s susceptibility to the cold doesn’t make it ideal for Immokalee winter production.
He said the crop during the winter is grown primarily in Homestead and in Mexico.
“If it doesn’t get killed by the cold, it can get scarred up and grow slowly,” he said. “Most of the eggplant you can grow in the winter doesn’t grade very well.”
Six L’s grows its eggplant in Homestead.
Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce, Loxahatchee, said last winter’s shortages brought higher-than-normal prices.
He said prices got as high as in the $20 range.
“It’s a fairly consistent deal,” Rayfield said. “Prices aren’t as volatile. You can make exceptional yields with a good crop so the price is never really high unless there’s a weather event.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 1/9-bushel cartons including wrapped mediums from south Georgia in mid-October Oct. 19 sold for $5.35-6.85 with fair quality selling for $3.35-4.35.
Last year, the USDA reported the same sizes from south Georgia in mid-October selling for $4.35-6.85.
Florida’s spring eggplant deal returns in March and typically runs through mid-May.
Planting for this season’s winter lettuce deal was under way for Palm Beach County growers in September and October.
Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., the fresh division of Oviedo-based A. Duda & Sons Inc., has increased its plantings and added an additional harvester unit to handle the expected volume.
Jason Bedsole, sales manager of Eastern vegetables and citrus, declined to state Duda’s Belle Glade area acreage but called it a sizeable increase.
“With the weather we have been experiencing, the stands look well,” he said in mid-October. “Everything is emerging well and looking good.”
Florida’s winter lettuce harvesting typically starts in early to mid-December and usually finishes by early April.
Bedsole said Duda plans to start in mid-December.
He said last season went well despite a couple of delays caused by the colder-than-average weather in January and February.
TKM Bengard Farms LLC, Belle Glade, plans to begin harvesting on time Dec. 1.
“We have had a great growing season,” Toby Basore, crop management manager, said in late October. “Last year was too warm, and the deal started early. But this year, we are on-schedule. We have had cool nights and warm and sunny days.”
Basore said TKM expects to be in full volume by mid-December.
Dan Shiver, co-owner of Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee, said Branch’s growers plan to start harvesting around Thanksgiving with volume expected to hit in early December.
“We expect to have normal supplies,” he said in late October. “The quality looks excellent. The weather has been really good.”
Shiver said the cold weather didn’t help last year’s lettuce deal, and he characterized prices as only fair.
He said Branch’s growers, which grow about 600 acres of escarole, endive, romaine, Boston butter lettuce and bibb lettuce as well as curly and plain parsley and Chinese cabbage, are more optimistic this season.
January through March usually marks the state’s prime leaf and lettuce growing season.
Planting starts in late September and runs through October.
According to the USDA, prices for cartons of 24s of romaine lettuce from Salinas, Calif., and Watsonville, Calif., in mid-October Oct. 19 sold for $7.95-9.50.
That’s down from last year when those cartons from Salinas, and Watsonville sold for $12.55-14.56.