IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Florida growers expect to ship continued light volumes of bell peppers until late March as production recovers from a January freeze.
That freeze crippled most of the state’s pepper volume, leaving February movement a fraction of normal shipments and keeping prices higher than normal.
The subfreezing temperatures destroyed a high percentage of the crop and stopped pickings and packings at south Florida packinghouses.
The only plants that survived were ones growers had covered with straw or other material to keep ground heat from dissipating into the air.
Though the freezing temperatures ended Jan. 12, Pacific Collier Fresh Co. was able to get in only a handful of days of pickings by late February.
Jim Monteith, sales manager, said unfavorable growing weather since the freeze, which included lots of clouds, frequent rains and cooler-than-normal temperatures limited harvest.
He said buyers shouldn’t expect regular pickings to resume until sometime in late March.
“We are being slowed down by this additional cold weather,” Monteith said in late February. “We lost a tremendous amount of product. We have been staying on a regular planting schedule and have not gone in and replanted anything.”
Growers that have anything left in the fields usually have the smaller or off-grade-type pepper, he said. Monteith said the deal needs strong markets to warrant longer pickings.
Pacific Collier normally picks pepper through late April and early May.
Growers in late February called the pepper market strong.
In mid-February, Monteith and other grower-shipper quoted f.o.b.s in the low $20s or higher. However, prices soon escalated into the $30s by the end of the month.
Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said he expects prices to remain high until volume returns, which he said should begin with decent volumes during the first week of March.
“Even then, pickings will be light,” he said in mid-February. “Some of our oldest spring plantings were hurt and got set back. “Pickings will be a little more sporadic than normal. The quality, however, should be fine.”