BELLE GLADE, Fla. — During the fall and winter, Florida grower-shippers send other vegetables, such as eggplant, lettuce, celery and radishes, to the market.
Though better known for its traditional southern vegetables, the peninsula is a major grower-shipper of those commodities during other growing areas’ off-season.
Lower prices characterized the eggplant market in October as central and south Florida shippers prepared to start their fall eggplant deals.
Mike Shier, sales manager for vegetable department of Six L’s Packing Co. Inc., Immokalee, called the eggplant market depressed.
Shier in mid-October quoted $6-8 for 1 1/9-bushel cartons including wrapped mediums of eggplant.
“Georgia has come in with a tremendous amount of eggplant for the fall,” he said. “Georgia probably has a bigger crop than normal. There’s a fair amount of acreage there this year.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 1/9-bushel cartons including wrapped mediums from south Georgia in late October sold for $8.35-10.85.
As production normally starts in mid- to late November and ends by early April, Florida’s prime leaf and lettuce growing season runs January through March.
Some escarole and romaine begin harvesting in mid-November with lettuce starting in mid-December.
Planting began in late September and in October.
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., called last season strong.
“We had a very good quality and strong crop,” he said. “We are building on this again this season.”
Bedsole said lettuce pricing often follows California, but can be slightly higher because of the offset of freight costs for East Coast deliveries.
Duda grows a full line of lettuce, including endive, escarole, green leaf, red leaf, iceberg and boston lettuce.
Growers for Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee, planned to start endive and escarole production the last week of October with full volume of other leaf and lettuce items by Nov. 7 to Nov. 8, said Dan Shiver, co-owner.
The reason Branch’s harvesting starts a little earlier than other shippers is that Branch’s growers missed some of the rains that hit during planting, Shiver said.
“The quality looks excellent,” he said in mid-October. “We look to have a good year.”
According to the USDA, prices for cartons of 24s of romaine lettuce from Salinas, Calif., and Watsonville, Calif., in late October sold for $10-12.35.
Florida grower-shippers were expecting celery prices to firm up as they prepared to start their winter deal.
Florida’s harvesting normally begins in late December with promotable volumes hitting Jan. 1 through late April, depending on weather.
Though he characterized summer and early fall prices as lackluster, Bedsole said lower volumes after the end of production areas such as Michigan — and some companies having issues with production — should help increase the market.
“This is the time of the year when prices start to increase and move toward the holiday period,” Bedsole said in mid-October. “With Thanksgiving around the corner, there will be a lot of volume running through the system.”
Duda began transplanting its celery in September.
Florida volume and quality should be strong when the deal starts, Bedsole said.
Pioneer Growers Co-op returned to the celery deal two years ago.
It grows and ships its cabbage under the Grassy Waters label.
Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager, said buyers can look forward to strong product.
“Quality has been good,” he said. “Color is good. Our celery has been received well.”
Pioneer plans to begin shipments in late December and pack through mid-April.
According to the USDA, cartons of 2 1/2 dozen from Salinas, Calif., in late October sold for $14.45-16.56.
Duda in mid-October was finishing its Michigan production and plans to start radish harvesting in early November.
Bedsole said he expects a planned seven- to 10-day overlap between the two growing regions to ensure consistent supplies.
Though south Florida experienced some heavy rains during planting, Bedsole said the wetness shouldn’t affect supplies and expects the deal to produce good quality radishes.
“We have good stands and are looking at good yields when we start,” he said in mid-October.
South Florida production normally runs through early to mid-May.
Like the start of its deal, Bedsole said Duda plans a two to three week overlap at the deal’s end with Michigan, which begins summer production in May.
The USDA in late October reported $6.35-7.50 for cartons of bunched 24s for Mexican crossings through California and from Oxnard, Calif.
L&M Cos., Raleigh, N.C., plans to begin shipments of its south Georgia broccoli Nov. 1.
The deal transitions to Palatka at the end of December and in early January.
L&M’s north Florida broccoli deal runs through the end of March and early April before shifting back to Georgia.
L&M has been growing Florida broccoli for six years, said Greg Cardamone, L&M’s general manager of eastern vegetables.