SALINAS, Calif. — As spring approached, celery growers in California’s Ventura County still felt the effects of torrential December rains.
“It’s very uncommon to get 8 inches of rain in eight days,” said Danny Pereira, Oxnard general manager for Rio Farms, recalling a soggy Christmas season. “We’re probably 25% off our production (in the first week of February).”
“We had some quality issues due to the heavy rains,” he said. “Bacteria turned into soft rot, and we had to stay on top of that.”
Sammy Duda, vice president of Duda Farm Fresh Foods — which unveiled a red celery last fall — said transplanting became impossible in Oxnard.
“We had to do it by hand for a period of time,” Duda said. “A machine would have sunk and got stuck. Hand planting is not as good as a mechanical transplanter.”
Moreover, cooler-than-normal ground temperatures slowed celery growth.
“Volume is light and there’s not much size,” Pereira said. “It may pick up a little at the end of March.”
Prices for cartons of 2-2½ dozen out of Oxnard ran mostly $30.50-32.65 on Feb. 7, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A year ago it was just $9-12.
Some growers reported even higher prices.
“It’s $38 dollars on the open market for celery,” Duda said shortly after the USDA report came out. “I don’t know if it’s ever been that high.”
“Celery is in the mid-30s, about as high as you see in these markets,” said Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Oxnard-based Boskovich Farms.
“We expect seeders and molding issues in April, depending on what temperatures we get,” Pereira said. “It could be ideal conditions for seeders to shoot up like Christmas trees in April.”
Other parts of California were less affected. Santa Barbara Farms LLC grows celery in the Imperial Valley.
“There was some freezing, but Oxnard and Mexico were damaged worse,” said Ron Berghoefer, vice president of marketing and sales for the Lompoc-based company.