Warm weather, cold snap roil California vegetable production

03/01/2013 01:12:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

Vicky BoydA dry February has allowed growers to plant fields in the Watsonville and Salinas areas on schedule. Barring unforeseen weather in March and April, grower-shippers say the crop looks to be in good shape and progressing nicely. %An unusually warm December followed by freezing temperatures at the end of the year and continued cooler weather in some California vegetable production areas has created a market some grower-shippers describe as a roller coaster.

The volatility could extend well into spring, they said, depending on the crop and the weather between now and harvest.

“The very warm weather in December accelerated the growth of the crop and actually got us ahead of schedule,” said Sammy Duda, vice president of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Salinas, Calif.

Freezing temperatures around Christmas, followed by continued cold nights, have affected supply.

Celery crop stunted

In the celery crop grown in Oxnard, Calif., for example, Duda said the plants were smaller and slower to mature.

Celery growers also are seeing pith, an internal defect in the stalks that can shorten shelf life.

“We really expected it to subside,” he said. “But the cold and the cumulative effects will create erratic supplies, we think, through May.”

Duda Farm Fresh Foods typically sources most of its cool-season vegetables, except for celery, out of the desert in the winter and then transitions to the Huron, Calif., area for about a month in the spring before moving to Salinas for summer production. Celery is grown in the Oxnard-Ventura region.

Duda said it was too early to tell what effect the cold might have had on the Huron lettuce deal.

“Currently, the crop looks pretty good, and the stands are pretty good,” he said. “It may be two to three days behind schedule, but it’s so early to have a feel.”

Supply gaps possible

With the desert deal ahead of schedule and the Huron deal looking to be slightly behind, Duda said there could be supply gaps. But the weather between now and harvest in Huron will dictate whether that actually occurs.

In the Salinas area, Duda said plantings have been going in on schedule, but they were slow to emerge, “as you would expect with all of this cold weather.”

Because harvest won’t begin until April, Duda said it’s far too early to make any predictions about Salinas.

Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, provided a similar outlook.

“There are still a lot of ups and downs due to the weather,” Widerburg said. “The first six weeks, we were up in the markets and down as far as supply.”

In mid-February, Boskovich Farms was sourcing out of Ventura, the desert Southwest and a little out of northern Mexico. And there was no escaping cold temperatures.

“The weather has adversely affected pretty much all of the areas,” he said.

The effects have varied, depending on the crop. In many of the leafy green crops, for example, freezes can cause epidural peeling, blistering, tip burn and stunted plant growth.

Widerburg said he expected the weather-related inconsistent supplies to continue through March and begin to smooth out in April.

Elena Hernandez, marketing coordinator for Mann Packing Co., Salinas, agreed.

“It’s been a tough season,” she said. “Right now we’re transitioning down in the desert, and there has been a lot of frost and cold temperatures. But we’re faring fairly well.”

During a typical year, temperatures improve in March and April as the company moves to the Salinas production area.

“We can get some really beautiful days and some really cold days,” she said. “It really depends on how spring is going to treat us.”



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