IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Florida is known for producing smaller quantities of some vegetables during the fall and winter.
Grower-shippers from southwest Florida’s vegetable packing hub in Immokalee pack eggplant alongside the larger volumes of bell pepper and squash and in Belle Glade pack lettuce along with the bigger volumes of green beans and sweet corn.
Fall harvesting of Plant City eggplant typically starts in early November with Immokalee and south Florida production starting at a similar time with both areas ending in late December.
Eggplant at Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.’s field north of Immokalee, Fla.
Christian “Chris” Tordonato, sales manager for Florida Specialties Inc., said last season’s extreme cold killed the crop.
“The eggplant never materialized last year,” he said. “The cold weather got it. We lost 100% of our eggplant crop.”
Gerry Odell, chief operating officer of farming and packing for the Lipman Family Cos., which grows and packs tomatoes and vegetables through Six L’s Packing Co. Inc. and Custom Pak, said eggplant’s susceptibility to the cold doesn’t make it ideal for Immokalee winter production.
He said the crop during the winter is grown primarily in Homestead and in Mexico.
“If it doesn’t get killed by the cold, it can get scarred up and grow slowly,” he said. “Most of the eggplant you can grow in the winter doesn’t grade very well.”
Six L’s grows its eggplant in Homestead.
Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce, Loxahatchee, said last winter’s shortages brought higher-than-normal prices.
He said prices got as high as in the $20 range.
“It’s a fairly consistent deal,” Rayfield said. “Prices aren’t as volatile. You can make exceptional yields with a good crop so the price is never really high unless there’s a weather event.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 1/9-bushel cartons including wrapped mediums from south Georgia in mid-October Oct. 19 sold for $5.35-6.85 with fair quality selling for $3.35-4.35.
Last year, the USDA reported the same sizes from south Georgia in mid-October selling for $4.35-6.85.
Florida’s spring eggplant deal returns in March and typically runs through mid-May.
Planting for this season’s winter lettuce deal was under way for Palm Beach County growers in September and October.