IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Florida grower-shippers enter the newest fall and winter seasons with smaller than normal plantings of bell peppers.

Heavy late summer rains during planting also may affect early volume.

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said acreage all over Florida is down considerably after last year’s low prices and freezes during the previous two seasons put a damper on growers’ plantings.

“The last several years when we have gone into the south Florida season in November, the market has been pretty depressed,” Lytch said. “When we come in there on such a low market, it’s hard to recover the rest of the year. We have a lot of production for the holiday time slots, so the thoughts are this year growers will hopefully at least get a fair price. That’s possible with the amount of acreage that’s down.”

Lytch said he wasn’t sure how much acreage declined and said crop quality was strong.

Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce Inc., Loxahatchee, said the rain interrupted plantings and could cause some gaps and variable volume during the deal’s early weeks.

Still, Rayfield said he expects a solid season.

“In Florida, everything is looking good,” he said Oct. 16. “As far as we can tell, our crops look exactly how we want them to look for this time of the year.”

J&J planned to start harvesting its bell peppers in light volume in late October and ship bigger volumes in early November. J&J grows in central, southeast and southwest Florida.

Utopia Packing LLC, a division of Myakka City-based Utopia Farms, began its crown, or first harvesting, Oct. 18.

Jim Monteith, sales manager, said this season is likely one of the best starts Utopia has experienced.

He said central Florida avoided some of the big early rains that harmed other growers’ plantings.

“The quality looks really good,” Monteith said Oct. 16. “It has a very nice and consistent set. There are no plant health issues as of yet, so we are very happy with the conditions we have had so far.”

Utopia planned to begin heavier harvesting in late October.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct. 30 reported 1 1/9 bushel cartons of jumbos and extra large from central and south Florida selling for $10-10.85 and fair quality for $8-8.85.

Last year in late October, the USDA reported 1 1/9 bushel cartons of jumbos from south Georgia selling for $14.35 for extra large and $12.35 for extra large fair quality and large.

Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, Wimauma, planned to begin bell pepper harvesting in late October.

Jeff Williams, president, said central and south Florida volume should be lower this season.

He said he wasn’t sure how much but said he is hearing that acreage should be down and blamed the decline on last year’s disappointing markets.

Williams said the transition from south Georgia to Florida usually works well.

Hearne grows bell peppers in Cecil, Ga.

“They look great,” Williams said in mid-October. “The quality looks good. It looks like it should be a good crop.”

Calvert Cullen, president of Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., Cheriton, Va., said he expects a smooth transition from south Georgia to central Florida.

“We have set it up so, plant-wise, we should transition well barring any extreme weather problems or losses,” Cullen said in mid-October. “Georgia is going well. Volume’s been good.”

Southern Corporate Packers Inc. plans to begin harvesting its bell pepper on time in early to mid-November.

“The bell peppers are coming along beautifully,” Brian Arrigo, president, said in early October.

Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Plant City-based Wish Farms, said Georgia usually ships into mid-November.

“The crop looks very good,” Wishnatzki said in mid-October. “Our spring season was very good. We had good pricing and are hoping the fall will be good too.”

Wish grows in central Florida as well as in south Florida during the winter on Pine Island, near Fort Myers.