California weather swings affect celery markets

01/14/2013 03:13:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Celery markets should tighten due to abnormally warm weather followed by freezes in California.

In early January, Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce was sourcing celery from the Oxnard region, which wasn’t nearly as affected by the strange weather as was the Imperial Valley, said Mark McBride, salesman.

“Growing conditions have been pretty normal,” he said. “Right along the coast the effects haven’t been quite as dramatic.”

As a result, Coastline wasn’t seeing the same supply gaps in early January for celery as for other vegetables whose production is more centered in the desert, McBride said.

Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms expects to harvest celery from Oxnard through June, said Russ Widerburg, sales manager.

Beginning about Jan. 10, several days of expected freezing temperatures at night and highs only in the 50s during the day will likely slow harvest of Oxnard-area celery, Widerburg said.

“Celery will be affected, to what degree I’m not sure,” he said.

Oxnard-based Deardorff Family Farms reported a scarcity of large sizes and occasional gluts of small product, said David Cook, sales manager.

Compared with other California vegetables hit hard by the unseasonable weather, however, celery was fairly stable.

“The market is rising, but it’s incremental — it’s not like lettuce,” Cook said.

Coastline’s supply situation will likely change as the company transitions from Oxnard to the desert, a process that began the week of Jan. 7.

Big sizes, in particular, will be harder to come by, McBride also said.

“Twenty-fours and 30s are probably going to be more scarce. ... This is the strangest year anyone can remember.”

On Jan. 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $12.75-15.56 for two dozen cartons of celery from Oxnard, up from $9.45-11.50 last year at the same time.

The tighter markets could be short-lived, McBride said, particularly based on revised weather forecasts that showed warmer temperatures than first expected.

Markets could return to more normal markets by mid- to late January, though volumes will still likely be lighter than normal, McBride said.

Also, harvesting schedules pushed up as much as two weeks would likely contribute to a supply gap, possibly into late January, Widerburg said.

“Prices are creeping up a bit this week, and we expect them to go up a bit more next week,” Widerburg said Jan. 8.

Because of rains, Boskovich was harvesting some celery before it reached full size, which would likely keep supplies of 24s and 30s tight into late January.



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