Thanks to favorable weather, Carolina grower-shippers expect normal volumes of high-quality tomatoes, romaine, cucumbers, peppers and other vegetables heading into the summer deals.
In early May, Clovis, Calif.-based Ag-Mart Produce Inc. which does business as Santa Sweets Inc., Plant City, Fla., had just finished planting tomatoes in Leland, N.C., said J.M. Procacci, the company’s chief operating officer.
Harvest should begin the last week of June, with the deal running up to 10 weeks, Procacci said.
“It’s an in-between deal,” Procacci said of Ag-Mart’s North Carolina deal, which bridges a gap between the company’s North Florida and New Jersey deals.
The deal is so short because of the hot Carolina summers, which actually are hotter than summers in Northern Florida, Procacci said.
Ag-Mart used to have a fall North Carolina deal, but the weather didn’t cooperate, Procacci said.
“Growing in the dead of summer (for fall harvest) hasn’t worked for us,” he said. “It’s too hot. Others do it in South Carolina and western North Carolina, but it seems to be a little cooler there.”
Carolina volumes should be similar to last year, he said. The company expects a similar mix of its Santa Sweet heirloom grape tomatoes and Ugly Ripe heirloom beefsteaks.
About 75% of the Ag-Mart’s North Carolina tomatoes are expected to be Santa Sweets, about 25% Ugly Ripes, Procacci said.
Procacci characterizes the Santa Sweet as a true grape tomato — an heirloom, developed in China, that hasn’t been cross-bred with any other grapes. The variety isn’t picked in North Carolina until it’s very red and has very high sugar levels, he said.
The Carolina vegetable deals for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. should begin in late spring and wind down a little over a month later, said Greg Cardamone, the company’s general manager for vegetables.
“We will start the first week of June with squash and cukes, closely followed by bell pepper,” Cardamone said. “We should last into the third or fourth week of July.”
L&M expects to ship a similar mix of vegetables out of North Carolina this summer, he said.
As far as demand grows, the winter and early spring travails of the southern U.S. vegetable deals should benefit North Carolina, Cardamone said.
“We expect demand to be good during this time frame,” he said. “We have been starved for product since the Florida weather. Prices are normalizing, optimism is turning around and we should have better demand as a result.”
Wilson, N.C.-based Fresh-Pik began harvesting romaine lettuce in mid-April, about on time, said James Sharp, the company’s president.
“It was a typical start,” Sharp said. “We had some cool weather early on and thought there would be a delay, but then some hot weather caught us back up.”
Fresh-Pik’s Carolina romaine was expected to wind down in mid-May, Sharp said.
Sharp reported similar romaine volumes as last year, and said product was very clean. Marketed by Cedarville, N.J.-based Eastern Fresh Growers Inc., much of Fresh-Pik’s winds up in Carolina foodservice channels, he said.
Romaine production has picked up in North Carolina, particularly on the state’s coast, said Nick Augostini, marketing specialist for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.