Cool, rainy weather may mean slow start for Salinas harvest

04/19/2012 02:29:00 PM
Mike Hornick

SALINAS, Calif. — Cold nights and rainy days in the second week of April left Salinas Valley vegetable grower-shippers wondering whether relief from a winter of oversupply and stagnant pricing was in sight.

It was too early to tell. But the timing was inconvenient — right as lettuce production was about to shift to the valley from the Huron district and southern areas.

“We’re always surprised when it rains in April,” said Michael Boggiatto, president of Salinas-based Boggiatto Produce, Inc. “When it starts raining, we think maybe we’ll get a market out of this. We’re not predicting that. Markets were depressed in the desert deal, but we do hope for a respite.”

Boggiatto Produce was stalled by four mornings of frost delays, he said.

Dave Martinez, director of sales at D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California, also expected initial delays.

“It’s going to be a rough, slow go at the start,” Martinez said April 9, a day before D’Arrigo Bros. finished its lettuce deal in Yuma, Ariz. “We’re going to be at 50% of what was scheduled to come off this week. We’re anticipating some quality issues that will affect yield.”

“I don’t see the front end overproduced at all,” he said. “With Huron winding down, there are good opportunities to raise the market a couple dollars. We’re really optimistic that the market will get off the floor in the next couple weeks.”

Prices on 24-count romaine cartons out of Salinas were mostly $7.69-8.75 on April 12 shortly after Martinez spoke but had risen to $8.50-10.35 by April 17, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s still down from $9.58 to $10.50 the year before. Romaine hearts in 12 three-count packages were mostly $10.85-12.11 on April 17, down from $12.47 to $13.45 a year ago.

“It’s a rocky start to the Salinas deal — not really what I hoped it would be,” Henry Dill, sales manager at Pacific International Marketing, said April 9. “We thought we’d have Salinas going side by side with Santa Maria, but that’s not the case.”

Nevertheless, Dill wasn’t predicting shortfalls.

“We had such perfect winter weather that we didn’t really miss any planting dates,” he said. “I’m not anticipating gaps; we have product in other areas. It’s just a matter of when the deal does start.”

The Salinas deal develops in stages. Coastline Produce and Castroville-based Ocean Mist Farms, for example, started broccoli and cauliflower in the last week of March. “With our relatively mild winter, the quality on broccoli and cauliflower is just phenomenal,” said Mark McBride, sales manager at Salinas-based Coastline Produce.

Pacific International Marketing and Earthbound Farm each reported cauliflower two weeks behind schedule, but had no issues with broccoli.

Doug Classen, sales manager, said Salinas-based The Nunes Co. was on time for all commodities but cauliflower.

For the lettuce varieties, the transition from the desert regions to Huron also happened in late March. Most growers were in Salinas by the week of April 16; for one, The Nunes Co. expected to start iceberg then. D’Arrigo Bros., which skips Huron, is among the first to harvest lettuce here.

Celery hits Salinas in mid-June. Meanwhile production centers on Oxnard, which has problems of its own.

“Oxnard is mired in overproduction,” Sammy Duda, vice president of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, said April 10. “We believe in a couple weeks you’ll see a seeder issue begin to develop there and supply will start to decline.”

Good cheer was hardly universal among grower-shippers.

“We’re looking forward to better markets,” Classen said. “But we don’t see that happening in the near future.”

Toward the end of Ocean Mist Farms’ Yuma deal, vice president of harvesting Art Barrientos said, growers left some fields unharvested rather than face low prices.

Artichokes are grown to varying extents year-round in the region, but volume peaks in April and May.

Pacific International Marketing’s Dill said frost took a bite out of artichokes in lower-lying fields.

“At least 5% to 10% of the next (artichoke) pick is lost,” Dill said. “We’re just going to have to cut them and drop them. Doesn’t matter if it’s our stuff, Ocean Mist or Green Giant. Weather doesn’t discriminate.”

Huron also was problematic, Dill said.

“We had a number of blocks in Huron that weren’t able to harvest because of frost damage,” he said. “With a depressed market, it didn’t warrant taking a chance to clean it up and box it. I can’t remember a spring deal in Huron when there was that much blister on the product.”



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