IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Growers expect favorable winter weather to produce a bountiful Florida spring deal.
The absence of killer freezes and warmer-than-normal winter weather helped mature crops and bring some to market a week or so earlier than usual.
“The weather has been good everywhere,” Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said in late February. L&M Cos. grows and packs from Immokalee and Palatka.
“Except for that one little freeze where we had some damage, it was little damage. Except for that, the crops have been tremendous and the quality has been really good. The yields this year have been really huge.”
Freeze damage was minor
Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce Inc., Loxahatchee, agrees that weather conditions are helping the crops. Since the early January freeze, he said, growers have experienced mostly favorable weather.
“The younger plants that didn’t get frozen and the replanted fields are all going well now,” he said in late February.
“I think we will have an excellent spring season. The crops look great. We expect excellent quality and good volumes. Florida will be in a position to support retail efforts to promote their products, especially in March and April when the weather starts warming up in the north when retailers are looking for promotions to get consumers out and about, shopping.”
Calvert Cullen, president of Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., Cheriton, Va., which grows and ships bell pepper, cucumbers, squash and cabbage from Florida and Georgia, said growers experienced some minor damage from the early January freezes. However, the damage wasn’t as profound as recent years’ freezes, he said.
“We are hoping for a good spring,” Cullen said in mid-February. “The crops that are planted all look good. Barring any weather problems, buyers can expect to see good volume, and quality should be very good. Production and plantings are on schedule.”
Early start for some crops
Growers plan to harvest earlier spring volumes of bell peppers from Immokalee.
“Buyers should expect real good quality with the spring crop coming up with the good weather we have had out of Immokalee and Bradenton,” Jim Monteith, Bradenton-based head of U.S. and Canadian sales for Utopia-Can-Am Pepper Co. LP, Madison, Wis., said in late February.
This spring’s corn may start earlier than normal, said Brett Bergmann, co-owner of Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee.
“We will get going in March,” he said in late February. “Yields won’t be big at the start because it’s been dry, but growing conditions have been well. The volume deal may be in early April this year instead of mid-May.”
Grower-shippers expect Immokalee and central Florida tomato volumes to start about a week ahead of normal, said Tony DiMare, vice president of Homestead-based DiMare Co.
“It doesn’t matter what the commodity is,” he said in late February. “The weather has been warm and has been pushing production up.”
Warmer-than-average winter conditions also have accelerated watermelon development.
Brian Arrigo, president of Southern Corporate Packers Inc., said growers might start harvesting in late March, about two weeks ahead of normal.
He said growers are concerned the earlier deal may miss the Memorial Day push.
“We are hoping for a real good season and should have a really good crop,” he said. “We are hoping for favorable weather up north to help us move a lot of fruit this year.”
The strawberry deal is producing quality berries and should finish with an earlier than normal season peak in early to mid-March, said Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Wish Farms, Plant City.
“So far, production has been phenomenal,” he said in late February. “We have good-looking fruit.”
Meanwhile, growers say a mid-February freeze could cut the state’s blueberry harvest by 20%, particularly in the state’s northern growing regions.
Citrus also looks good.
“It’s been a strong citrus season overall in terms of quality and volume,” 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., said in late February. “The fruit has good appearance and quality.”