The start of the California desert deal holds out some hope for buyers to see the first normal supplies of broccoli in months.
Twenty pounds of loose, crown cut broccoli shipped for $18.50-19.65 out of Salinas on Nov. 4, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That was down from an extraordinary $32-35 on Oct. 14, but still nearly double year-ago prices of $9-10.
Growers in Salinas and Santa Maria reduced their broccoli acreage this year, and yields on varieties bred for normal summer warmth dropped as well when temperatures fell a bit short of the mark. In Mexico, Hurricane Manuel hit producing areas, pushing crown cut above $20 in late September.
“That’s what flipped this thing into outer space,” Mark McBride, salesman for Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce, said Nov. 5. “It all adds up to pretty much an unprecedented broccoli market for the last several weeks. It did calm down last week but is already firming up this week.”
Coastline Produce’s California desert production is in the Imperial Valley. As the region comes online, broccoli supply could approach normal.
“Once we get established there in early to mid-December, that’s the best chance for us to have consistent and regular supplies,” McBride said. “It’s been a long time since that’s been the case.”
But at least some growers cut back plantings in Imperial or Coachella as well.
“Broccoli is just a tough commodity to sell,” said Art Barrientos, vice president of harvesting at Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms. “We’ve been fortunate to have a darn good broccoli market most of the summer and all fall. That’s because for the most part, everybody cut back their acreage for the Salinas deal. Lo and behold, what a concept.”
Some desert growers may be tempted by the high prices. Others will stand pat.
“As everybody was planning for the winter deal in the desert, you kept hearing the acreage would be down in broccoli,” Barrientos said. “I’ve got to believe it will be down somewhat. Based on the Salinas deal, some folks may have increased their acreage. There’s still time for them to do that, but we’re going to stay on our schedule with slightly lower acreage this year.”