A spring growing period marked by good weather, quality fruit and strong markets has prompted optimism among pepper grower-packers.
Immokalee, Fla.-based Lipman Produce finished up its south Florida bell pepper fields in mid-April, slightly earlier than normal, before transitioning into central Florida and south Georgia, said Darren Micelle, chief operating officer.
As the summer progresses, it will move north into the Carolinas before returning to south Florida in the fall.
The season so far, he said, had been uneventful weatherwise, which is being reflected by good quality and yields.
Although green bells are its mainstay, Micelle said the grower-packer also works with greenhouse producers in El Salvador for red, yellow and orange peppers that go into colored or stoplight tray packs.
Jim Monteith, sales manager for Utopia Packing LLC, Myakka City, Fla., had a similar take on the season, saying quality and yields of green bells were generally good.
The grower-packer has fields in two locations — Immokalee and Myakka City — that allow it to be in the market nine months of the year, excluding the summer.
It finished picking in Immokalee in early May and expects to run through early June in Myakka City.
Demand is also strong, he said.
“A lot of that may have to do with the fact that there’s not as many people growing bell peppers in Florida as there used to be,” Monteith said.
Randy Bailey, owner and president of Oxford, N.C.-based Bailey Farms, which has miniature sweet and baby bell acreage in south Florida and North Carolina, said a desirable Florida growing season has led to quality product.
“It’s been a pretty good growing season,” he said.
“There hasn’t been a lot of bad weather, not a lot of cold weather.”
Harvest in southern Florida will continue through May before moving north. In addition to its own acreage, Bailey Farms also works with a handful of growers elsewhere in Florida and in Georgia to ensure year-round supply of its specialty sweet peppers.
Jeremy Lane, sales manager for Fresno, Calif.-based Baloian Farms, described the green bells and field-grown red peppers coming out of California’s Coachella Valley as “very nice.”
“They have nice thick wells, nice color. It’s looking real good,” he said in late April.
Lane credited changes in the operation’s cultural practices as well as warm, but not hot, weather for the good quality and yields.
Retail demand has been equally strong.
“It’s marrying up very well with the supply, which is nice,” he said.
Baloian Farms will transition to the south San Joaquin Valley in June, followed by production in the northern San Joaquin Valley as well as in the Hollister and Gilroy areas.
Mike Aiton, marketing director for Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif., said he, too, was seeing good quality and yields in the green and yellow bells and the elongated red peppers coming out of the Coachella Valley in late April.
“It’s been perfect,” he said of the growing conditions. “We’ve had a couple of months where temperatures hovered around 90 degrees, so everything in the Coachella Valley is progressing nicely.”
In fact, he said peppers as well as other crops in the valley are about seven days ahead of schedule.
Markets have been fairly stable, and demand has been good, he said, noting some problems with the East Coast.
“There’s been some issues on the East Coast as far as weather that’s stimulated more shipments from the West Coast to the East Coast than we normally would have,” he said.
Prime Time plans to transition to production in the Oxnard region in June.
Gilroy, Calif.-based Uesugi Farms Inc. just started harvesting in the Coachella Valley in early May, one of the last growers in the region to begin. Pete Aiello, owner and general manager, said demand has been good.
“Demand, unfortunately, has exceeded what we’ve been able to supply,” he said.
“The demand right now is really good. Prices are really good. We just don’t have a lot of production happening right now.”
Aiello said he didn’t expect it to pick up until the operation transitions to its Kern County production areas.
Uesugi has year-round production of green bells, and red and yellow Lamuyos, as well as chili peppers in seven California counties as well as near Phoenix and in Mexico.