Desert produce growers anticipate strong season for spring crops

05/03/2013 12:01:00 PM
Tom Burfield

The spring crop of vegetables and melons out of California’s Coachella and Imperial valleys may be a brief one, but growers expect to ship a wide range of good-quality products before temperatures approach the triple-digit range.

John Burton, general manager, sales and cooler for Peter Rabbit Farms, says consumers are seeing more value in eggplant than ever. The company started picking eggplant April 25 and will continue through June. “Quality of the crop is going to be really nice,” he says. Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, Calif., plans to kick off its eggplant program in early May, said John Burton, general manager for sales and cooler.

“Right now, all the signs are pointing to an average to above average season on eggplant,” he said April 15.

Temperatures shot into the 90 degree range the week of April 22, and that’s good for eggplant.

“It really loves the heat,” Burton said, especially temperatures in the 95- to 100 degree range.

“We should start seeing some eggplant really start to produce out there,” Burton said.

He didn’t want temperatures to climb too high, though.

“You don’t want it to get into the 110-112 (degree) area.”

The company offers eggplant from May until late June.

Beans, peppers, corn, tomatoes

Keber Distributing Inc., Thermal, Calif., started its bean program April 18 and planned to start bell peppers and a small amount of corn in late April.

“We’ll go until about the first week of June,” said partner Dick Keber, adding that quality should be good as a result of good growing weather.

Jeff Dolan, DiMare/California field operations manager, said DiMare Indio’s mature-green tomatoes should come off in early May and continue until the first or second week of June.

Dolan said he was pleased with growing conditions this season.

“It’s been a pretty good spring down there,” he said.

It’s not easy to grow tomatoes in the desert, he added, but the company “figured out how to do it” and can get a head start on the San Joaquin Valley deal.

Coachella-based Prime Time International plans to be up and running with its bell peppers; yellow, white and bicolor corn; seedless and seeded watermelons; cucumbers; green beans; hard squash and eggplant by mid-May, said Mike Aiton, director of marketing.

“May and June are our busiest months of the year at Prime Time,” Aiton said.

The company’s green beans and bell peppers started six days earlier than last year, and Aiton thinks other commodities will follow suit with volume similar to 2012.

“We’re expecting a very good quality year,” he said, barring high temperatures or excessive wind.

Rio red grapefruit, dates

Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers Inc. will be shipping rio red grapefruit from the desert growing areas through May, said Joan Wickham, manager of advertising and public relations.

Fruit quality, taste and color are excellent, she said.

“Rio red grapefruit are large fruit with a beautiful red pigment on the rind,” she said. “They are valued for their juice and fresh red flesh, known for its unique balance of sweetness and tang.”

The date harvest isn’t until fall, but some Coachella Valley companies pack dates year-round.

“We’re very big in dates,” said Bob Bianco, co-owner of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Anthony Vineyards, which owns half of Sun Date in Coachella.

He said the company is one of the biggest players in the valley’s date deal.

Although sales peak during the holiday season, demand remains strong for the fruit year-round, and the company’s date program continues to expand, he said.

“Half the population has never tasted a date, so there’s a lot of room for growth,” Bianco said.

Dates are high in potassium and a very healthful fruit, he added. They can be frozen and used in many ways.

They’re also gaining recognition as they work their way into school lunch programs.

Richard Bagdasarian Inc. in Mecca, Calif., also has a date program, said president Nick Bozick. Peter Rabbit Farms, which has offered medjool dates for years, started its own packing line last fall and plans to grow the program every year, Burton said.



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