(Jan. 22) SALINAS, Calif. — A warm and mild California winter is bringing on celery like mad.

Despite some high Santa Ana winds that have caused some damage, the celery crop is anywhere from 10 days to two weeks ahead of normal, growers said.

That means the celery is reaching full maturity quicker, which means it needs promotion to bring sales up to supply levels, growers said.

“Of course, we don’t want to go too far out, because there will be a correction at some point,” said Sammy Duda, vice president and general manager of Duda California/Gene Jackson Farms. “A cold snap or some cooler weather could mean we’d have supply for a couple weeks and then a gap.”

Weather forecasters had predicted a cold front would blanket California as January turned to February, but by Jan. 20 they were backing off that prediction, saying any cold weather would not be as severe or as long-lasting as they had originally thought.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Jan. 21 celery from Southern California had a wide range in quality. Cartons of 2 dozen and 2½ dozen ranged from $5.10-6.10. Cartons of 3 dozen or 4 dozen were $4.60-5.60.

Movement from the Santa Maria district was slow and expected to decrease, according to the USDA. Cartons of 2 dozen sold for about $5.20, while cartons of 2½ dozen were about $4.75. Cartons of 3 dozen or 4 dozen were $4.20-4.75.

Meanwhile, celery from Florida was of good quality and priced considerably higher, according to the USDA. Cartons of 2 dozen sold for $7.75, while 2½ dozen and 3 dozen sold for $6.75.

Growers said they had plenty of celery — and that much of it was of good quality — but they lamented the low market price.

“The celery is good quality, but the fob pricing is way below cost,” said Steve Koran, director of sales for Growers Express. “A lot of the product is ahead of schedule.”

The predominant amount of California celery is coming off in the Oxnard area and the Southern district, but by the first of February, Santa Maria should ship more volume, growers said. The Salinas season will start about mid-June.