Cauliflower has been the best news of late for Arizona and California vegetable growers, who enjoy a relatively strong market that will go at least through the end of January.
“It started getting active around mid-December,” said Jason Lathos, commodity manager for Salinas, Calif.-based Church Bros. LLC. “Since the middle of December, cauliflower has averaged $15 to $20 f.o.b.”
Just before the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday weekend, on Jan. 17 most cartons of film-wrapped cauliflower 12s shipped for $14.35 to $16.55 from Yuma, Ariz., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At Santa Maria, Calif., was about $10 to $11.
The three-year average price for Yuma cauliflower has been $12.87, according to the USDA, but that includes last winter when a hard freeze and other issues sent f.o.b. soaring to $25 to $27.
“It goes back to the unusually warm weather we’ve experienced through the entire Yuma deal,” said Doug Classen, sales manager for Salinas, Calif.-based The Nunes Co. “A lot of the cauliflower came forward and left somewhat of a hole in supply, so people have had to continually reach for volume.”
“Company to company, the industry is in a feast or famine situation,” Classen said Jan. 21. “Some have quite a bit more cauliflower than others right now. At least for the next week to 10 days, I see somewhat of a market. But it’s come off a little from what it was.”
For buyers within range, Santa Maria has been more appealing lately than Yuma.
“It’s off the beaten path so they’ve had to use price to entice people to load there,” said Henry Dill, sales manager for Pacific International Marketing. “There are not a lot of items to pick up in that area. And you’ve got a bit better production in Santa Maria.”
“We could get cooler weather in Yuma next week,” Dill said Jan. 21. “If the weather cycle remains what it’s been, there will probably be better production in the desert.”
But Church Bros. sees something of a longer term trend at work in the cauliflower market.
“If you were to watch 24 hours of the Food Network, you’d see one show or another feature cauliflower or brussels sprouts,” Lathos said. “That’s in line with what happened before kale and blueberries took off.”
“Kale was the last one where you saw a big increase in media attention and consumption,” Lathos said. “I think the next two items you’ll see are cauliflower and brussels sprouts. They’re already starting to take off.”
For cauliflower, Lathos said, grower-shippers have a way to go before they’re ready to meet any demand increases.
“Depending on time of year, it’s a 60- to 90-day crop,” he said. “If you’re not adjusted and ready for it, you’re going to have lighter supplies. The industry is not ahead of the curve yet.”
On Jan. 20, Lathos said Church Bros. recently enjoyed a record week for sales of fresh-cut items as milder temperatures returned to the East Coast.