BELLE GLADE, Fla. — Aside from its traditional southern vegetables, the Sunshine State is known for packing other vegetables such as lettuce, celery, radishes and variety peppers.

Florida grows heavy volumes of those vegetables during the fall, winter and spring.

Growers said most of those crops survived the January freezes that devastated many other Florida-grown vegetables.

South Florida’s lettuce deal escaped damage from the bitter January cold that burned many other Florida crops.

Grower-shippers say they are looking forward to a strong year.

“The lettuce survived the cold well,” said 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. “The quality is good and the arrivals have been great. It’s hard to tell the difference between western and eastern lettuce anymore with the varieties they are growing these days in Florida.”

Duda markets lettuce grown through a partnership with TKM Bengard Farms LLC.

Dan Shiver, co-owner of Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee, said his growers’ lettuce escaped major damage. If freezing weather damages any heads, Shiver said growers can peel the bad spots off of the cap leaf if the damage doesn’t go too deep.

“The quality is very good now and the markets have been very good,” he said in mid-February.

Saying supplies were insufficient to establish a market and that production will continue to be below normal for the next month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wasn’t quoting Florida lettuce prices in mid-February.

“You can’t give away romaine out west because it’s cheap,” Shiver said. “But the endive, escarole and parsley markets have been very good. Though it’s all predicated on the weather, things look very good now here and buyers should expect good quality all the way through.”

Last year in late February, the USDA reported romaine cartons of 24s from California’s Imperial and Palo Verde valleys sold for $10.45-11.75 with hearts 12, 3-count packages selling for $10.10-12.10.

South Florida’s lettuce deal normally finishes in early May with retail shipments ending in mid-April.

South Florida celery grower-shippers escaped damage from the prolonged overnight freezing temperatures that struck their region in January.

“We don’t have any supply issues,” Bedsole said. “The qualities and outlooks are good. Volumes are good as well.”

Bedsole in mid-February said celery markets have settled a little from the highs they experienced in January.

Prices, he said, were beginning to come down a little and level in February.

Prices remained fair but had leveled out, Bedsole said.

Bedsole quoted south Florida celery selling in the mid-teens.

Last year in late February, the USDA reported cartons and crates of 2 dozen and 2 1/2 dozen and 3 dozen from south Florida sold for $20.95-21.95; 2 1/2 dozen, $21.95-23.95.

Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager for Pioneer Growers Co-op, said celery prices soared this spring after California experienced heavy rains.

Those rains slowed movement and sent prices into the $20s.

As California, the leading celery-producing state, returns to production, Biederman said he expects celery prices to decline a little.

“We are very happy with the quality of Florida celery,” he said in early February. “We are battling a perception that California celery is better than Florida celery. I think we have closed that gap this year. It’s being well-received throughout the country.”

Pioneer’s growers plan to pack celery through mid-April.

Shiver in early February called south Florida’s celery quality excellent.

“California has fewer supplies this season,” he said. “Demand here has been very strong.”
Shiver said demand in January was as strong as it was last season.

The freeze didn’t leave south Florida’s radish production untouched.

“We had some losses and also had some slowdown in the growth, which held us back a little,” Biederman said. “We are still able to go on with those reasonably.”

Prices this spring are considerably higher than last spring.

Quoting $9.45 for 30 6-ounce film bags and $9.95 for cartons of topped 14 1-pound film bags, Biederman called prices a little higher than normal. He said those two sizes normally in the spring sell for $5-6.

Last year in late February, the USDA reported cartons of topped 30, 6-ounce film bags red sold for $6.45; cartons topped 14, 1-pound film bags red, $6.95; resealable, $7.70; 25-pound film bags, $10.85; 40-pound film bags topped, $16.35.

South Florida radish production normally runs Nov. 1 through late May.

Bedsole called the radish market average to steady.

He said Duda’s radishes suffered minimal freeze damage.

“There’s obviously a week- to 10-day delay in harvesting due to the cold temperatures, but everything is back on schedule and the quality is good,” he said in mid-February.

After Georgia’s broccoli deal ends in late December, north Florida production in Palatka normally begins in mid-December and runs through mid-April when Georgia resumes production.

South Florida normally picks January through late March.

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said north Florida pickings have brought excellent quality that should bring promotable volume.

Though heavy rains in early February washed out rows and destroyed some younger plantings, L&M was able to replant. Lytch said he doesn’t expect any type of gap going into April.

Lytch in mid-February characterized the broccoli market as abnormally low because of earlier overproduction.

He quoted California product selling for $5-6 to lower open to consignment.

Lytch, however, said he hopes Florida’s closer proximity to eastern markets should provide a freight advantage.

Branch entered the broccoli deal this winter.

One of Branch’s growers, R.C. Hatton Farms, Pahokee, saw the possibilities of growing the vegetable and began production, Shiver said.

“Quality has been excellent,” Shiver said in early February. “It has had a good customer reception. We are exploring where we can go with it because it seems to be doing well now.”

Branch plans to ship broccoli from south Florida through the end of March.

Hot peppers
Florida also grows respectable amounts of variety or hot peppers.

Grower-shippers say the freeze caused damage to that crop as well.

Emilio Mirzakhani, general manager of Homestead Pole Bean Cooperative Inc., said the freeze burned most of the hot peppers such as jalapenos and cubanelles and caused a gap from January into early February, but that some survived.

“Jalapenos are coming up pretty well,” he said in early February. “There should be good volumes coming in.”

Mirzakhani said growers trimmed the freeze damage from the plants’ tops.

In early February, Orrin Cope, president of Orrin H. Cope Produce Inc., Homestead, quoted long hots selling for in the $20s per box with finger hots selling for $12-16.

Cope estimated hot peppers sustained damage up to 80%.

Florida growers pick hot peppers through the winter and into April.