Warm weather brings early Florida spring crops

02/26/2013 08:35:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — A warmer than normal winter is accelerating growth of Florida crops.

Grower-shippers say buyers should expect a bumper crop of bell peppers, which is set to start earlier than normal.

Bell pepper grading at J&J Produce Inc. in  Loxahatchee, Fla.Doug OhlemeierWorkers grade bell peppers at Loxahatchee, Fla.-based J&J Produce Inc. in early February. Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing, and other shippers report high winter volume bringing low prices. Squash prices and production, however, are reported to be the opposite as Florida growers move into spring production. Though Mexico’s cold weather is keeping squash supplies low and demand high, pepper demand remains low, shippers report.

Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. plans to begin its spring production in mid-March, much earlier than its usual early April start.

Adam Lytch, L&M’s operations manager, said buyers should expect high volume and quality once Florida harvest ramps up in April. He said pepper prices are among the season’s lowest.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in late February reported these prices for bell peppers from central and south Florida: 1 1/9-bushel cartons of jumbos and extra larges selling for $8-10.95 with large selling for $8-10.

Last year at the same time, the USDA reported central and south Florida bell pepper prices for 1 1/9-bushel cartons of jumbos and extra larges were $8.35-10.35, $8.35-8.85 for large and $7.35-8.35 for medium.

“We have had such warm days, our growing conditions have been like the fall,” Lytch said in late February. “That’s made for big plants and big yields. This has been one of the best winters as far as quality and yield that we’ve seen in a long time.

“From a supply side, I think what’s affected price the most is the weather in the Northeast and Midwest, which has affected demand,” he said. “That’s the biggest reason the markets have been depressed.”

Lytch said south Florida vegetables escaped damage from a Feb. 17 freeze.

In late February, Loxahatchee-based J&J Produce Inc. began spring squash production in eastern Palm Beach County.

Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing, said J&J’s spring production is also going well in southwest Florida near Fort Myers and in central Florida near Ruskin.

He said lower Mexican production is keeping demand high.

“Demand has exceeded supply going on two months,” Rayfield said in late February. “We don’t expect this to normalize until the middle or end of March. When the spring squash comes back around to where supply exceeds demand, we hope buyers don’t let prices fall too far below growers’ production costs in an effort to recoup any challenges they (retailers) had with high prices in the winter.”

Brian RayfieldRayfieldIn late February, the USDA reported these prices for central and south Florida squash: ½-bushel cartons and crates of yellow straightneck small, $18-20.35, medium, $16-18.35; ½- and 5/9-bushel cartons and crates of zucchini small, $20-24.35, medium, $18-22.35; ¾-bushel cartons and crates of yellow crookneck, small, $14-14.85, medium, $12-12.85.


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