Florida sweet corn, beans feel frost’s bite

03/20/2009 12:00:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

(March 20, 2:25 p.m.) Buyers should expect smaller volumes and higher prices of some Florida spring vegetables until mid- to late April after sweet corn and green bean production recovers from killer winter freezes.

F.o.b. prices reflected gaps and shortages caused by a series of freezes that struck Florida growing regions in late January and early February.

Florida sweet corn and beans skyrocketed to $25 and $34 respectively in the weeks following the severe cold that wiped out most of Belle Glade’s winter corns and beans.

Prices for bell peppers and squash also heated up, though in mid-March had begun declining as spring production was preparing to start.

“The prices reflect the only source of corn now is coming out of Homestead,” said Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager for Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade. “We’re getting all our corn out of Homestead, as the supply is low.”

Biederman in mid-March said he expects Lake Okeechobee-area corn to begin in production around April 20, more than a month later than normal. He said he doesn’t expect any big change in corn or beans prices until volume resumes.

Soaring prices

South Florida beans escalated from $14.85 for bushel hampers, cartons and crates of handpicked in January to $25 in mid-February. In mid-March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported $33-34 for handpicked beans.

For handpicked Mexican bean crossings at Nogales, Ariz., 30-pound cartons or crates sold for $36.95-38.95 in mid-March.

Corn also jumped, from $16.85-18.85 for wirebound crates of 4-4 1/2 dozen yellow with white and bicolor from south Florida selling for $18.85-20.85 in mid-February to $24.85-25.85 for all three colors in mid-March.

From Mexico, crates of white corn sold for $14.95-16.95.

Last year, the three colors sold for $7.70 from south Florida.

Gary Stafford, salesman with Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee, Fla., said his Palm Beach County growers have had few beans to sell.

He said the market may dip a little, but it shouldn’t be a substantial decline because bean volume won’t return strong until after Easter on April 12.

“We have had freezes and/or frosts since Jan. 22. It has just taken its toll,” Stafford said March 17. “The market will remain strong until the volume improves. Easter demand will take up a lot of that increased volume in the early part of April.”

Stafford said Immokalee, Fla., growers weren’t producing much bean volume either.

While Homestead bean volume normally ends in mid-April, Belle Glade typically starts in March and finishes by May 10.

Central Florida production

Central Florida bean production, which usually starts the first week of April, this year should start a week late for Cheriton, Va.-based C&E Farms Inc., which grows 600 acres — down from last season’s 700 acres — in Parrish, Fla.

Mark Colson, operations manager, said he expects prices to drop to $10.

“We are not really sure on what to expect, but they won’t be $30 by the time we get started,” he said. “It will likely be more in the $10-15 range.”

C&E plans to finish its central Florida harvesting in mid-May before moving to its Eastern Shore pickings.

South Florida’s corn deal, marketed from Belle Glade, normally has Homestead finishing by the end of March with Belle Glade volume picking up in early March and running through Memorial Day before Georgia volume starts.

Biederman said he thinks the cooler weather may push Homestead volume into April.

Prices for bell peppers and squash began falling in mid-March.

Michael Shier, sales manager for the vegetable department of Immokalee-based Six L’s Packing Co. Inc., said favorable weather in mid-March was beginning hasten crop growth. That, and more Florida East Coast pepper volume than initially forecast, lowered south Florida pepper and squash prices.

He said he expected Immokalee’s spring deals to start in early April.

Pepper and squash

According to the USDA, in early March, 1 1/9-bushel cartons and crates of green jumbos and extra larges sold for $20.35-20.85 but by mid-March declined to $18.35-18.85 for jumbos and $16.35-18.85 for extra larges.

That brings prices a little higher than last season in early spring.

Mexican green jumbos and extra larges in mid-March sold for $28.95.

Squash in mid-March was selling for $15-16.85 for ½- and 5/9-bushel crates and cartons of yellow straightneck small with mediums selling for $13-14.85, down from $20-21.85 for small and $23-23.85 for mediums in early March; 3/4 bushel cartons of yellow crookneck small in mid-March sold for $21-23, down a little from $23-23.85 earlier in the month and mediums remained unchanged at $16-16.85.

Green zucchini squash small remained at $10-10.85 for small and medium.

Shier said yellow squash sustained more freeze damage than the green, and that western supplies kept the green markets depressed.

Meanwhile, prices for south Florida tomatoes remained low.

According to the USDA, 25-pound cartons of loose mature greens 85% U.S. No. One or better 5x6s in mid-March sold for $7.95; flats of 12 1-pint baskets with lids of cherry tomatoes, $11.95-12.95; for grapes, flats of 12 1-pint baskets sold for $9.95-11.95; on romas, 25-pound loose cartons of extra large sold for $8.95.



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