Unlike the freezes and the resulting roller coaster market that desert Southwestern grower-shippers experienced last winter, this season has been marked by mostly above-average temperatures that has hastened crop maturity.
At the same time, much of the Midwest and East has been hit with repeated winter storms, slowing produce movement and creating price doldrums, said Joe Colace, a co-owner of Five Crowns Marketing, Brawley, Calif.
How that stagnation will affect markets moving into California’s spring vegetable season — particularly the early part — remains to be seen, grower-shippers said.
At least it could create a gap or at least tighter supplies as grower-shippers transition from the desert to the coast, said Peter Oill, sales and marketing director for the B Organic line from Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif.
“They’re cutting ahead,” he said on Feb. 12. “They’re cutting stuff they had planted for March (harvest) right now.”
An early December freeze slowed plant development in the desert. But after the cold air moved out, the region has since experienced temperatures about 10 degrees above average and crop quality has been good to excellent, Colace said.
But a tough winter elsewhere has driven down the market.
“The weather in the Midwest and East has been so severe and so cold that there really hasn’t been ample movement,” he said. “So as a shipper, it’s been the absolute worst combination for pricing. That weather in the East Coast really has played a major role in how returns play out.”
Oill agreed and said it has caused oversupply and depressed prices.
“This winter’s been really crazy,” he said. “You had the perfect storm. We’ve had perfect weather, here and we haven’t had any rain. It’s been totally temperate here in Ventura, and so there’s more product right now.
“To top it off, they’ve had all the bad weather in the Midwest and back East, so people aren’t going out shopping because of the cold and some of our trucks are having trouble getting from here to there.”
Mark Adamek, director of mixed lettuces and romaine for Tanimura & Antle, Salinas, Calif., said desert temperatures sometimes topping 90 degrees pushed the crops ahead of schedule. Just before midnight, Feb. 13, he said the thermometer read 69 degrees.
“We usually get cool nights, even if it’s warm in the springtime. It helps slow things down,” he said Feb. 14. “When it’s that warm at night, the plants just don’t shut down, and the quality goes with it.”
At the same time, he said, crews are cutting less each day because of the lull in Midwestern and eastern markets.
Based on the warmer temperatures that California’s Central Valley also has been experiencing, Adamek said he expected to transition from the desert to those fields about mid-March — a week earlier than normal. T&A has lettuce fields near Panoche Hills and Harris Ranch.
The start date could change if cooler weather moves in.
“The spring start up in the Central Valley is generally the toughest one to call long range because these fields have had the most weather, since they’ve been in the ground the longest,” Adamek said.
Looking ahead, Colace said the warm desert temperatures have helped the operation’s melons and sweet corn get off to a strong start with good stand establishment.
“As of today, we’re running ahead of schedule both in our melons and our corn,” Colace said Feb. 11. “We’re very pleased with the stands and the quality of the plants. They’re looking excellent.”