Fast start for Santa Maria vegetables - The Packer

Fast start for Santa Maria vegetables

04/16/2014 12:42:00 PM
Mike Hornick

Unlike last year when some Santa Maria growers reported planting gaps and shortfalls, spring supply is plentiful for most vegetables.

As with other regions and commodity types, California’s unusually warm winter brought growth on quickly for Central Coast vegetables. The typical rains that cool off crops and slow farm activity hardly materialized.

“We’re about 10 to 12 days ahead of schedule on leaf lettuce and romaine hearts,” Henry Dill, sales manager for Pacific International Marketing, said March 18. Both items began harvesting March 5, as did spinach and cilantro.

The grower-shipper was transitioning from Yuma, Ariz., expecting to be out close to March 25. “It’s been a bit of a challenge having the desert product still coming on while trying to get started in Santa Maria,” Dill said. “In a poor market situation, that’s made for a tough start.”

Pacific International expected to start iceberg lettuce March 21. Celery will arrive in Santa Maria in late April or early May.

“Winter temperatures all along the coast and down into Yuma were well above normal,” Dill said. “Last year we had 30 days in a row of frost in Yuma. This year we might have had two or three. It’s just two extremes.”

Broccoli, a year-round crop in Santa Maria, was returning more to sellers than it had during much of the Arizona production. Twenty-pound loose crown-cut broccoli shipped f.o.b. from Santa Maria for mostly $8.75 to $9.25 on March 31, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was $5.75 to $6.50 on Feb. 3.

Bonipak Produce Inc., Santa Maria, began harvesting lettuce in the third week of March, said Don Klusendorf, director of sales and marketing.

“Like everybody in the industry, we are a few weeks ahead,” he said March 24. “We’re ahead of our planting schedule. That may even out or create a gap. It’s too early to tell. Yuma is ending a little early.”

The lack of typical winter rain amounts don’t pose as immediate a threat to Santa Maria vegetables as they do to just about any crop grown in much of the San Joaquin Valley. The coastal region relies on groundwater, not federal or state allocations. But problems could still develop.

“Our biggest concern, like everybody else, is to make sure we’re smart with our water resources,” Dill said. “It’s yet to be determined whether our acreage on some items might have to be cut back to make sure we have enough water for what we need to grow down there.”


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