(Jan. 10) Markets for cantaloupes and other fruits and vegetables could strengthen as the result of unseasonably cold weather in Central America, which has slowed and in some cases reduced shipments.

Bad weather in Costa Rica set melon production back about two weeks, said Lou Kertesz, vice president of Fresh Quest Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla. When Guatemala was unable to pick up the slack, he said, markets responded accordingly.

“Markets have jumped radically on cantaloupes and honeydews, and they should stay firm through late February,” Kertesz said.

On Jan. 9, Kertesz quoted cantaloupe prices in the mid-teens, which were higher than Jan. 8 U.S. Department of Agriculture prices.

The USDA reported prices of $12.50-13 for half cartons of cantaloupes size 9-12, comparable to last year at the same time.

The cold could reduce the size of some fruit, but for the most part the effect on the 2008 Guatemalan melon crop should be minimal for L&M Cos. Inc., said Lee Anne Oxford, marketing director.

“There might be a delay a couple of weeks from now, but overall, it’s not devastating,” she said. “We didn’t lose any plants.”

The cold also reduced shipments of Asian vegetables and okra from Honduras for Caribbean Fruit Connection Corp., Medley, Fla., said Larry Leighton, president.

“Supplies are going to be very short this week — we hope they come back next week,” Leighton said Jan. 9. “Asian vegetables are going to be very short. We expect prices to increase. The okra market is also quite strong.”

Vegetable supplies from Central America probably wouldn’t begin to normalize until February, Leighton predicted.

A cold start to the New Year in Costa Rica was putting a dent in chayote volumes for Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing. While the damage was minimal, it was tightening chayote markets in early January, she said.

In addition, rain earlier in the growing season conspired with the cold to slow Central American yucca shipments, said Ostlund and Leighton.

Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., said Jan. 9 it was too early to gauge the effect of the bad weather on bananas.