OXNARD, Calif. — It’s strangely quiet out there for growers of California spring vegetables.
In mid-February, it was a bit of a plain vanilla market in most commodities. That was good for buyers.
A year ago, by contrast, rains had decimated the Oxnard celery crop, and the fallout from a freeze in Mexico was still being felt. For those who had product to sell, they were the good old days.
“There’s been an overabundance of supply going into spring and a lot of depressed markets the last three weeks,” Russ Widerburg, sales manager of Oxnard-based Boskovich Farms, said Feb. 8. “It’s been a very mild winter up and down the coast. Supply and yield are good; demand is fair; and markets have been held in check.”
The desert growing regions of the Southwest had a few hiccups with spot freezes here and there but no significant crop damage. Texas and Florida also enjoyed near-optimal conditions. California was hit with a mid-January freeze, but that had a modest impact on vegetables.
“It’s been a pretty slow market in the last couple weeks,” Scott Deardorff, partner in Oxnard-based Deardorff Family Farms, said Feb. 14. “It’s gone down on a number of conventional veg items, celery being one. Because of ideal growing conditions, there’s been a glut on the market. A month or so ago the desert was slowed down by cold weather, but now that’s bunching up their production.”
“We’re looking for something to change in the next few weeks,” Widerburg said. “Cauliflower might have a little pop to it. Demand got better with lighter supplies the last few days.”
Farther south, in California’s Coachella Valley, desert crops were in full bloom in mid-February — everything from artichokes to spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, leaf lettuces and romaine.
“We’re harvesting some very good quality with better-than-average volumes,” said Art Barrientos, vice president of harvesting at Castroville-based Ocean Mist Farms.
“But unfortunately, broccoli has been a struggle. It’s not just us. Industrywide we’re struggling with a deflated broccoli market. Cauliflower has been somewhat of a struggle as well.
“All the other commodities have been moving along fairly well but nothing earth shattering.”
Barrientos blamed broccoli’s woes on oversupply and the effects of winter weather on the East Coast.
“It doesn’t take much with an East Coast snowstorm that shuts down an area for a few days and you’ll feel the ripple effect,” he said. “Trucks can’t get in, customers won’t buy.”
The difference a year makes
On Feb. 21, cartons of broccoli bunched 14s from California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys ran $6-7, down from $12.45-14.45 the year before, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Oxnard-grown celery in cartons of two dozen were $6-7 on Feb. 21, down from year-ago prices of $39.45-42.50.
And cauliflower cartons of film-wrapped 12s from Santa Maria were $6-7.50 on Feb. 21, down from $17 to $18.55 a year ago.
Trek to Salinas
Growers transitioning from Yuma, Ariz., or California’s desert regions to Huron will start the Huron deal around March 26.
“Those who don’t stop in Huron will go to south Monterey County,” Barrientos said. “Toward the end of March you’ll see leaf lettuce being harvested in the south county.”
From there, it’s less than an hour’s ride up Highway 101 to Salinas.
Salinas-based Coastline Produce started broccoli in the Imperial Valley around Dec. 10.
“Our schedule is to start some broccoli in the Salinas area the week of March 19,” said Mark McBride, sales manager. “Cold weather early in the season slowed growth and kept a lot of product from coming on in a timely fashion.
“But we’re pretty well caught up on all commodities — iceberg, romaine, leaf lettuce, celery and all our bunching items. January was nothing to get excited about pricewise. It’s typically on the dragging side, but unusually so this year. No big rains or washouts.”
Broccoli is one of those commodities whose start times vary. Pacific International Marketing planned to harvest some broccoli in Salinas in February.
In Santa Maria, the company will start its leaf, romaine and butter lettuces around March 12, said Henry Dill, sales manager. Head lettuce in Santa Maria comes on about April 9.
Salinas lettuce harvesting should begin in the April 19-23 timeframe, McBride said.
Carrots in good supply
Grimmway Farms, Bakersfield, will transition its carrots to the Imperial Valley the week of March 12, said Eric Proffitt, sales manager.
The Bakersfield carrot crop typically runs Thanksgiving to mid-March.
“We’ll be growing in the desert right on time,” Proffitt said.
Supplies of Grimmway’s cello carrots, jumbo carrots, baby carrots and organics are normal.
“It’s a steady go for carrots this time of year,” he said.
That seemed true for most grower-shippers.
“I don’t see any disruptions in any of our conventional commodity lines,” said Doug Classen, sales manager at Salinas-based The Nunes Co.