Nick Bergstrom (left), chief sales officer with Pero Family Farms, Delray Beach, and Frank Pero, corporate executive vice president, visit bell pepper fields in late September.IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Despite central Florida tomatoes getting a later than normal start, grower-shippers say buyers should expect normal fall Florida crops.
The fall tomato deal began with lighter volume and slightly higher prices after heat and pollination problems produced smaller sizings of Palmetto-Ruskin tomatoes, said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers.
“There aren’t a lot of tomatoes in Palmetto,” Weisinger said in late October.
He said buyers should expect supplies to increase in late October and early November.
For other vegetables, Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said he was hoping for a strong season.
“The first plantings look really good,” Lytch said in mid-October.
“And the early product looks really good in Immokalee. It’s as good as our north Florida deal looked last year. It may look a bit better this fall.”
Lytch said L&M usually begins its north Florida harvesting of bell peppers near Branford in late October and it planned to begin its south Florida harvesting near Immokalee in early November.
L&M also grows and ships Florida cucumbers, squash, eggplant, cabbage, hot peppers and broccoli.
Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce Inc., Loxahatchee, said Georgia experienced a bumper fall crop and said he expects Georgia production to run into early November when Florida begins.
“We are planning to start in south Florida in early November,” he said in mid-October.
“Unless we have a weather event that changes things, our intention is to have a couple of weeks’ overlap with Georgia instead of a gap to ensure supply continuity.”
On sweet corn and green beans, Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager for Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade, said Palm Beach County growers expect favorable seasons.
“The crops look good,” he said in mid-October.
“It’s just been normal fall weather for us but has been too wet at times where growers couldn’t get into the fields. But that’s nothing out of the ordinary for the fall.”
Biederman said buyers should expect normal transitions from south Georgia production to Florida production.
He said Florida typically begins with lighter volumes as Georgia finishes with smaller volume.
Growers said they’ve heard talk of smaller acreage.
Calvert Cullen, president of Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., Cheriton, Va., said bell pepper acreage could have declined in central and south Florida.
“It’s getting harder to compete with Mexico,” he said.
“One grower, Pacific Collier Fresh, is out. Then there are some others that have cut back on acreage. I think acreage will be down overall in Florida.”
Other growers express confidence in the coming season.
“We are optimistic for this season,” said Frank Pero, corporate executive vice president of Pero Family Farms, Delray Beach.
“The weather so far has cooperated and the hurricanes haven’t come. The plantings are on-schedule and the volumes should be there. The crops look great. We should have a good start for the season.”
Growers say they hope fall and winter bring more favorable growing conditions and spare them from devastating freezes.
“The last couple of years have been difficult,” said Kent Shoemaker, chief executive officer of Lipman, Immokalee.
“But because of our geographic diversity, we’re able to continue to provide product to our customers and that will be our focus this year. That’s the ultimate form of optimism with all the challenges our industry continues to face. Our company remains committed to growing and continuing to farm the land.”
Citrus grower-shippers also say harvests have started well.
“The grapefruit quality is exceptionally well,” said Jason Bedsole, sales manager of Eastern vegetables and citrus for Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., the fresh division of Oviedo-based A. Duda & Sons Inc.
“We have good quality on oranges and tangerines as well. Volumes are good on all. We have had a very good start.”
Duda, which packs its fruit at Peace River Citrus, Vero Beach, began its grapefruit harvest in late September and started its oranges in mid-October.