Growing conditions good for lettuce, celery

03/02/2012 10:55:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

BELLE GLADE, Fla. — Despite colder weather in early January, growers are optimistic about lettuce and celery production volumes for March in south Florida.
The crops saw no adverse effects from the subfreezing temperatures that struck during the overnight hours of Jan. 3-4, said Jason Bedsole, sales manager of Eastern vegetables and citrus for Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., the fresh division of Oviedo-based A. Duda & Sons Inc.
Lettuce
Lettuce should rebound from damages caused by the early freeze. Product being harvested in February remained in good shape, and the cold temperatures only delayed harvesting, said Dan Shiver, co-owner of Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee.
“Quality is excellent,” he said in late February. “We look to have a super spring crop.”
Bedsole said Duda is harvesting high-quality lettuce.
“The season started well,” he said in late February. “Demand has been fairly consistent.”
Though declining to state prices, Bedsole said south Florida lettuce is garnering higher prices than California.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture wasn’t reporting prices for Florida iceberg lettuce in late February, but on Feb. 28 reported these f.o.b. prices for California’s Imperial, Coachella and Palo Verde valleys: cartons of 24s sold for $5-6.50. 
Shiver called the market average. He said California overproduction helped keep prices low. 
South Florida growers ship iceberg, romaine, red leaf, green leaf, boston, escarole, endive, napa, baby bok choy, parsley and cilantro.
Florida growers usually begin production in early December and finish by early May.
Celery
This year’s season opened a little warmer than normal but growing conditions so far remain favorable, Bedsole said.
“Demand has been good,” he said in late February. “The quality is helping move it along.”
Bedsole called Florida volume strong.
He said California late winter volumes remain strong and that growing region which sets the markets didn’t experience any adverse weather.
Bedsole called prices a little below normal.
The USDA on Feb. 28 reported f.o.b. prices for cartons and crates of 2 dozen hearts from south Florida selling for $7.95-8.95 with 2 1/2 dozen and 3 dozen fetching $7.95-8.95 and carton film bags heart 18s garnering $13.10-14.10.
During the same period last year, the USDA reported cartons and crates of 2 dozen from south Florida marketing for $16.95.
Responding to customer demand, Pioneer Growers Co-op increased its acreage by a small amount. 
Citing competitive concerns, Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager, declined to state acreage.  
“This year’s crop looks fantastic,” he said in late February. “The quality looked great right out of the gate.”
Pioneer began harvesting in early January.
South Florida’s celery deal typically starts in late December and early January and runs through late April.


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