IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Following a difficult winter growing season, fraught with heavy rains and cold temperatures that lowered yields, buyers should expect promotable volumes of Florida’s Southern vegetables, which include bell peppers, cucumbers, squash and eggplant.
The winter brought sporadic bell pepper volume, said Jim Monteith, sales manager for Myakka City-based Utopia Packing LLC, a division of Utopia Farms.
Though cold weather delayed central Florida plantings a week, it shouldn’t significantly affect spring production, especially if warm weather accelerates crop production, Monteith said.
“This nice weather we’ve been getting is really helping the crop,” he said in late February. “This is what we need, and it’s long overdue. The Myakka City crop looks great.”
Buyers should expect strong quality, said Brian Rayfield, vice president of business development and marketing for Loxahatchee-based J&J Family of Farms Inc.
Normally, when Florida enters with a bumper crop in the spring prices drop drastically. That shouldn’t happen this spring as Mexico should be running out of volume as Florida ramps up, he said.
“We should have excellent volume and a quality spring crop,” Rayfield said. “The way things are shaping up, we project pricing to be slightly higher than normal for that time of the year due to Mexico finishing early. After a really good fall and a slightly lower winter, we are going to come into excellent volume for the spring. The plants are clean and disease-free.”
In late February, Rayfield quoted $24 for 1 1/9-bushel cartons of jumbos and extra larges.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture in late February reported these prices for central and South Florida: 1 1/9-bushel cartons of jumbos and extra larges selling for $22.35 with large selling for $18.95 and medium and irregular sizes for $18.35.
Last year in late February, the USDA reported jumbos and extra larges selling for $8-10.95 with large selling for $8-10.
The squash market was on the rebound in mid-February and Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., was transitioning into some of its spring production, said Adam Lytch, operations manager.
Lytch said he expects volume to increase in early March.
He said prices were low in early February but said prices had doubled by later in the month.
Quality remains high and winter winds harmed plants in December and January, Lytch said.
Cheriton, Va.-based Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., plans to start harvesting South Florida squash in early April.
“Everything was going steady this winter until we had that bad weather,” he said. “We are on the same program as in the past with the same acreages, so we are expecting a smooth steady transition into spring.”
Double-cropping by strawberry growers affects central Florida production, said Jeff Williams, president of Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, Wimauma.
“If they put squash in behind, the deal’s not very exciting,” he said. “If they put in peppers, eggplant or melons, it gives the squash deal a chance. But if they all jump in and plant squash, it pretty much kills the market.”
Though Florida usually begins harvesting spring cucumbers in late March and early- to mid-April, supplies could be low at the start, Lytch said.
“There won’t be enough cucumbers in Florida to affect the market tremendously one way or another in the beginning,” he said in late February. “The deal’s generally affected by volumes in Mexico and Honduras. The young vines look good, and we have had good growing weather. They haven’t had many cooling nights on them and have been growing since they were planted.”
L&M plans to start its Immokalee production March 10-15 as normal.
“With this weather, which is rather nice now, we should hopefully have a good crop set, and we expect good yields,” Brian Arrigo, president of Southern Corporate Packers Inc., said in late February. “Fall markets were pathetic because of overproduction in Florida. We are hoping to see some decent weather coming into the spring deal along with some nice markets.”
Florida growers normally begin harvesting eggplant in early April.
“The new plantings should be fine,” Cullen said in late February. “The plants we have for spring production should be good. We should have big volumes for the month of April.”
J&J’s Rayfield said buyers should expect strong volume.
“We have had a very good Florida eggplant crop this season,” he said in late February. “Quality has been excellent. We have had a good and steady supply that meets and slightly exceeds our demand.”