Light early volumes on tap as desert crop starts

11/14/2013 11:00:00 AM
Mike Hornick

Courtesy Peter Rabbit FarmsBuyers had to wait a week or two more than expected for red pepper coloring to peak. Cool autumn nights in California delayed full coloring for the peppers.In the California desert autumn nights in the 40s delayed full color on red bell peppers, but leafy greens seemed to welcome the cool.

Bell peppers nevertheless remained on track for normal volumes with ample large and extra-large sizes, even if buyers had to wait a week or two more than expected for reds to peak.

In mixed vegetables, the transition from Salinas and Santa Maria to the Coachella and Imperial valleys raised the possibility of a cooling off in broccoli prices by mid-December after months of short supply. The tight market, though, was due not just to warm-weather varieties underperforming in a cool Salinas summer but to decisions by growers to reduce acreage. At least some planned to keep limits on broccoli acreage in the desert deal, which stretches through March.

Coachella, Calif.-based Peter Rabbit Farms planned to start production of red leaf, green leaf and butter lettuce by Nov. 14, with romaine and romaine hearts to follow Nov. 20.

“That product loves the weather,” John Burton, general manager for sales and cooler at Peter Rabbit Farms, said. “It responds well to sunny days and cool nights. We didn’t think we’d start (leaf lettuce) until Thanksgiving, but we’re a week to 10 days earlier than predicted. Spinach is also slightly earlier than normal.”

Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce was to start its desert lettuce in Yuma, Ariz., around Nov. 14, but just as a bridge for a few weeks. The grower-shipper has most of its winter deal in Brawley, Calif., arriving the first week of December.

In Arizona scattered fields were lost to rain damage soon after planting, according to Mark McBride, salesman for Coastline Produce. “We’re expecting at least on the front end of the Yuma deal to see some reduction in yields as a result of the rains that hit several weeks ago,” he said Nov. 5.

Art Barrientos, vice president of harvesting at Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms — which grows a variety of crops in Coachella and Imperial — predicted a smooth transition from Salinas but said early volumes would be light.

“Some of our initial plantings, and this applies to the industry in general, were hit by early October rains that will impact the volume they are going to yield,” Barrientos said. “For us, the week of Nov. 25 and possibly into the first week of December, those plantings will be yielding about 85% of normal, plus or minus.”

Ocean Mist grows artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, fennel, lettuce and spinach in Coachella and broccoli and romaine in Imperial.


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