BELLE GLADE, Fla. — Higher production, weak demand and low prices are hurting the fall Florida green bean deal.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida growers for the 2009 fall harvest planted 9,200 acres, up 8% from 8,500 acres harvested during the fall of 2008, but still down about 16% from the 11,000 acres harvested during the fall of 2007.

Green bean deals could open to low demand

Doug Ohlemeier

Jeff Stepanovich, a salesman for Florida Specialties Inc., Immokalee, Fla., inspects some newly planted green beans in late September.
Growers characterized the fall beans deal as having higher production, weak demand and low prices.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Florida growers increased their fall plantings this season.
Florida Specialties plans to begin picking its south Florida beans in mid-November.

Georgia growers started pickings in mid-October, and south Florida growers usually begin production in mid-November to meet Thanksgiving demand.

Five Bros. Produce Inc., Homestead, plans to start its pickings Nov. 1, about 10 days earlier than normal.

Tommy Torbert Jr., president, said the early pickings weren’t due to weather during planting but follow the grower-shipper planting its beans 10 days earlier than normal in mid-September.

Torbert said the early November harvesting should bring promotable volume for the Thanksgiving push.

“The beans look good,” he said in mid-October. “Everything is pretty.”

Torbert said rain problems in Tennessee haven’t really affected bean prices.

High fall bean volume

In mid-October, Torbert said there seemed to be plenty of beans in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.

Though Tennessee growers experienced some rain-related losses, Torbert said they were still harvesting some good quality beans.

Five Bros. began its Georgia pickings from Rebecca, Ga., on time Oct. 5.

It should finish its Georgia harvest on Nov. 10.

Though the USDA on Oct. 6 reported south Georgia growers receiving $14.85-15.85 for bushel cartons/crates of machine-picked round green beans, with handpicked selling for $17-18, Gary Stafford, salesman and green bean manager for Pahokee-based Hugh H. Branch Inc., said the market didn’t finish the week of Oct. 5 at that price.

In mid-October, Stafford said machine-picked beans were selling in the $10 range.

The USDA in late October reported $18.85-19 from south Georgia for bushel cartons/crates of machine-picked round green beans, with handpicked selling for $21.

That compares to last season when the USDA in mid-October reported $14.85 for bushel cartons/crates of machine-picked round green beans from south Georgia.  

Branch’s growers plan to begin shipments Nov. 10 to Nov. 15 as their Poulan, Ga., production winds down, Stafford said.

Low demand

Stafford called fall demand weak.

“Business as a rule is real poor,” Stafford said. “There’s not much demand now.”

Thanksgiving demand usually pushes prices a little higher as Florida production begins in mid-November, he said.

Stafford said Georgia was producing high quality beans in mid-October.

An overabundance of production in Michigan, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina kept early fall bean prices low but steady, said Jeff Stepanovich, salesman for Florida Specialties Inc., Immokalee.

Depending on northern volume, opening prices in the south Florida deal can vary, Stepanovich said.

If the other deals end quickly, prices can open in Florida around $20 but often start around $14-16, he said.

South Florida growers hope northern producing areas such as Tennessee and Georgia — which run through the first hard freeze that normally hits in mid-November — finish before south Florida starts, Stepanovich said.

During January and February, when the Immokalee-area can be subjected to freezes and thus delay packings, Florida Specialties also grows beans in Homestead.

South Florida volume

Immokalee-area production normally runs through mid-April before the deal shirts to central Florida and south Georgia.

Florida Specialties sells beans grown from Grower 35, also known as former owner Jim Joiner.
Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade, began its south Georgia green beans harvesting on Oct. 10, on-time.

Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager, characterized the Georgia growing season as favorable with ideal weather.

He said he expects a smooth transition between Georgia and Florida, as Belle Glade and Homestead normally begin production in mid-November after Georgia ends.

Belle Glade production normally runs through early May.

The majority of Homestead’s beans normally finish by mid-April.

Green beans remain a mixer item for Pero Vegetable Co. LLC, Delray Beach.

“Last year was a good year,” said Scott Seddon, brand manager. “It wasn’t a great year for beans, but it wasn’t bad.”

Because Pero grows beans in warmer areas of south Florida, the grower-shipper didn’t experience too much trouble with last winter’s freezes, Seddon said.

In Florida, Five Bros. planted 6,000 acres of green beans this season, similar to last fall, Torbert said.