Florida freeze escalates vegetable prices - The Packer

Florida freeze escalates vegetable prices

01/28/2010 08:30:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

BELLE GLADE, Fla. — Buyers of Florida winter vegetables and tomatoes should expect smaller volumes and higher than normal prices until the state’s spring deals begin.

Many of south Florida’s packinghouses that would normally be busy running green beans, sweet corn, bell peppers, squash and tomatoes remain at a standstill, causing some prices to shoot to high levels.

Doug Ohlemeier

Freeze-damaged bell peppers south of Immokalee, Fla. Growers say buyers shouldn’t expect normal volumes of peppers, beans, corn and tomatoes until March.

On Jan. 26, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it expected Florida beans, peppers and tomatoes of all types to decline in movement during the next two weeks.

Statewide, vegetable supplies should be down up to 75%, said Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce Inc., Loxahatchee, which grows and packs peppers and squash.

“There will be a roller coaster ride of supply and quality issues,” he said Jan. 27. “Some fields made it through better than others. There are going to be challenges for the next 60 days. It should be April 1 before things are back to normal.”

Rayfield said other growers he has talked with say they plan to stay on their original production schedules and do not plan to rush in and replant damaged acreage to avoid a spring glut.

Though the USDA on Jan. 26 said supplies were insufficient to establish a market, beans remained in the $40s for bushel cartons/crates of round green beans  since mid-January, said Gary Stafford, salesman and green bean manager for Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee.

Stafford, who quoted $45 on Jan. 27, said he expects prices to remain higher than normal until spring production begins by late March.

“We are waiting to grow out a new crop,” he said. “Anything that was in the ground received a lot of damage while 90% of planted acreage above the ground received mild to severe damage.  We have been salvaging during the last few weeks on fields that had mild to severe damage.”

Stafford said he expects a gap through mid-February when the region resumes with light production. Normal production shouldn’t start until mid-March, he said.

Garrett Griffin, salesman for S..M. Jones & Co. Inc., Belle Glade, said he wouldn’t have any corn to pack until March.

The freeze destroyed about 75% of S. M. Jones grower-owners’ Homestead crop, and Griffin said he expected irregular volume from Homestead beginning in March.

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