Acreage declines could boost winter pepper markets

11/05/2010 11:41:16 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — After disastrous winter and spring seasons, bell pepper grower-shippers are counting on word of fewer acres to help lift markets and bring better fall and winter deals.

January’s freezes and subsequent cold weather kept the plants from growing.

Though prices remained high, most growers couldn’t capitalize on the market because they didn’t have supply.


Doug Ohlemeier

Jim Monteith, sales manager for Pacific Collier Fresh Co., Immokalee, Fla., in a field of bell pepper in late September. Monteith says south Florida growers are looking for a better and more normal year following last year’s freeze-wrecked winter and spring seasons. Monteith says plants are moving along and look healthy and buyers should expect harvesting to start on schedule barring any weather issues.


When the delayed deal hit the market, growing regions walked on other growing regions and crashed prices to $5-6.

Jim Monteith, sales manager for Pacific Collier Fresh Co., said south Florida growers are looking for a better and more normal year.

“It should be a much different season down here,” he said. “The feedback I’m getting is that acreage is down in Florida. Hopefully, with the acreage being down, we will see some better markets than what we saw last year.”

Though he said he isn’t hearing any concrete numbers, Monteith said he thinks all of the state’s acreage will be lower.

Because 1989 was the last time such a freeze wrecked Florida before 2009-10, Monteith said growers hope it will be another 20 years before south Florida experiences another winter as severe.

Monteith said south Florida bell pepper plants are moving along and look healthy and said harvesting should remain on schedule barring any weather issues.

Central Florida growers begin their harvesting in mid-October with south Florida typically starting in early November.

Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., which grows peppers in north and south Florida, planned to start harvesting in the Branford area west of Gainesville by late October and start its Immokalee area harvesting in early November.

“This fall crop looks really nice,” Adam Lytch, operations manager, said in mid-October. “As far as the stand, it’s one of the most even pepper crops we have had in a while. Everything is nice and even and coming along well.”

Lytch in mid-October called the pepper market strong.

Prices were strong because heat caused an early end to northern producing areas with a small gap in volume before Georgia started, he said.

In late October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 1 1/9-bushel cartons of jumbos and extra-larges from south Georgia selling for $10.35-12.85; large, $8.35-9.85; with extra large fair quality $8.35-8.85.

That’s lower than in early October when the USDA reported these prices: $14.35-14.85; large, $12.35-14.85; with extra large fair quality $8.35-10.85.

Last year, the USDA in mid-October reported 1 1/9-bushel cartons of jumbos and extra larges from south Georgia selling for $12.35-12.85; large, $10.35-10.85; fair quality $8.35-8.85.

In central Florida, Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, Wimauma, plans to begin harvesting in early November.

“Things are looking well on this crop,” Jeff Williams, president, said in mid-October.

Gerry Odell, chief operating officer of farming and packing for the Lipman Family Cos., Immokalee, which grows and packs tomatoes and vegetables through Six L’s Packing Co. Inc. and Custom Pak, said warmer south Florida land in Estero and Naples as well as on the East Coast helped some volume of supplies survive last year’s freeze.

“We were fortunate in that we had pepper that got through last year’s freeze,” he said. “We were able to recuperate some of what we lost due to the temperatures. It was cold on the East Coast, but it didn’t freeze.”

J&J Produce, Loxahatchee, also grows some of its pepper on the warmer East Coast soil.

“In spite of the worst freeze in years, we were blessed to have this Palm Beach County land that helped us make a decent crop, and we were able to take care of our customers,” he said. “It (the deal overall) was a dramatic and astronomic loss. This year, we are hoping for better.”

Because of colder temperatures, central Florida normally finishes in late December.

Though south Florida produces throughout the winter, because of planting schedules, volume typically slows in January and February and resumes in March for spring production.



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