California desert grower-shippers have ample supplies of green bell peppers in large and extra large sizes, but some are waiting longer than expected for reds to turn color.
“Volume on green is outstanding, with thick walls,” John Burton, general manager of sales and cooler for Coachella, Calif.-based Peter Rabbit Farms, said Nov. 6. “But cool nights have settled in — in the low 40s — and it’s pushed my red harvest back a week to two weeks behind normal peak. I should be peaking right now, but I’m probably not going to harvest bigger numbers on reds until Nov. 18.”
“Color has been really nice on the green peppers,” said Jeremy Lane, sales manager for Fresno, Calif.-based Baloian Farms. “During the desert fall season we don’t get quite the leaf canopy, which means more light on the plant and more color on the peppers. We’re hoping for the same to be true with the reds, the minis and baby bell peppers. They’re heavy and dense too, and developing a nice thick wall. It’s just a matter of turning color.”
Baloian Farms, which loads desert product in Thermal, Calif., started green bell pepper production in the region Oct. 28. Green beans came online Nov. 4.
“We were hoping to start reds, minis and babies in about two weeks, but it’s a little cooler now so it could be as late as three weeks,” Lane said Nov. 4.
Sun World International planned to start its field-grown elongated red peppers, marketed as Le Rouge Royal, in the desert the week of Nov. 4, said Gene Coughlin, category director for peppers at the Bakersfield, Calif.-based grower-shipper. Yellows were expected to follow around Nov. 11.
“We’re pretty bullish on it,” Coughlin said. “There were some high winds in the past few weeks, but we don’t expect a long-term effect. Conditions are good.” Sun World was transitioning from Oxnard.
Desert peppers, whatever their schedule, can expect an eager greeting in the marketplace.
“Compared to the last couple of years, which were not terrific for the pepper deal, summer supply was a bit shorter just because there was less acreage,” Coughlin said. “Pricing seemed to hold better through the summer and that kept going into the fall deal.”
For large green bell peppers, 1 1/9-bushel cartons were shipping for $12.95-4.95 Nov. 11 out of the Coachella Valley, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Year-ago prices were $9.95-10.95.
Prime Time International LLC, Coachella, Calif., was among the first to benefit from fall demand. It started green bell pepper production by mid-October, about a week sooner than usual.
“We were fortunate to start early because the market was ready for them,” said Mike Aiton, director of marketing at Prime Time International. “The turnover and prices have been very good. The last couple of years have been higher priced than normal.”
“A lot of shippers, like Prime Time, cut their planting for late summer and early fall because of the impact locally grown had on us,” Aiton said. “And local areas had a lot of disruptive weather that shortened their growing cycle and left them with quality issues. It caused the overall pepper market to be stronger than we’ve seen in several years.”
Prime Time expected to start field-grown red peppers around Nov. 10 and have them through the New Year. Its hothouse program for red, yellow and orange peppers starts at about the same time and will last until mid-April.