Supplies of California desert veggies headed for shipping docks

11/11/2010 11:52:53 AM
Don Schrack

FRESNO, Calif. — Winter in southern Arizona attracts thousands of what the locals call snow bunnies, retirees who escape the frigid weather of their spring/summer homes in the North for the state’s warm winter weather.

There are scores of seasonal visitors, too, across the border in California. They are the familiar names of mostly Salinas Valley vegetable grower-shippers who travel south to join their desert-based colleagues to keep retail and foodservice shelves stocked.

Despite some weather problems during plantings and a new pest threat, the vegetable volume should meet last season’s winter production, grower-shippers said.

Ocean Mist Farms, the Castroville-based artichoke giant, will begin harvesting its desert artichokes in mid-December, said Jeff Percy, vice president of desert production.

“Supplies will be light to start, but we’ll have heavy, normal supplies through January and February,” he said. “The quality should be very good.”

The domestic asparagus industry is all but gone from the California desert. Instead grower-shippers have moved across the border into Mexico.

Among them is Brawley-based Five Crowns Marketing.

“We figure to begin shipping asparagus the first week in January,” said Bill Colace, co-owner.

Coastline, Salinas, could begin limited harvesting of Mexican asparagus as early as late December, said Mark McBride, office sales manager.

“It’s an excellent quality deal with excellent sizing and color,” he said. “It’s a real pleasure to sell that deal.”

Bell peppers are the California desert’s winter season opener.

Baloian Farms, Fresno, started harvesting green bell peppers in late October, said Jeremy Lane, sales manager.

“Our early desert bells are complemented by the late-season bell peppers we grow on the central coast,” he said.

Shipping of the Baloian Farms red bell peppers was scheduled to begin in mid-November, Lane said, with both colors expected to be available through the end of the year or until the first frost. The company’s higher elevation desert fields are traditionally among the last to suffer frost damage, he said.

Baloian Farms also is growing mini sweet peppers in the desert. Supplies should be available through the holiday season, Lane said.

Bakersfield-based Sun World International LLC is dumping green bell peppers this season to focus on its red varieties, said Gene Coughlin, category director citrus, watermelon and peppers. Sun World also will grow limited supplies of yellow bells, he said, with acreage overall about the same as last season.


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