BELLE GLADE, Fla. — Because of trouble in other growing regions, prices for lettuce and celery remain higher than normal.
Except for lettuce, shippers say the December freezes caused little harm to most of those crops.
While Florida is known for its southern vegetables, the Sunshine State’s grower-shippers also grow other vegetables such as lettuce, celery, radishes and broccoli during the fall, winter and spring.
A small tightening of supplies and increasing demand for Florida lettuce, however, have boosted lettuce prices.
Dan Shiver, co-owner of Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee, said December freezes reduced supplies by 10%.
He quoted romaine selling for $30.95 for 24-count boxes, and escarole and endive in the mid- to upper $20s.
Shiver said romaine prices only increased in February while prices for the other lettuces increased in January.
“There is just exceptional demand for lettuce,” he said in late February. “The market has been very active with high prices. I would expect high prices for the immediate future.”
Shiver characterized quality as excellent and said shippers are receiving strong results from shipments.
Because of unfavorable West Coast weather, 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., in late February said the deal has been strong this season, and said buyers should expect ample supplies and high quality.
He quoted $35 for cartons of lettuce.
Bedsole said lettuce didn’t escape the December freezes.
“It had a bit of a slowdown but we’re over that part,” he said. “Lettuce should be fairly consistent throughout the rest of the deal.”
Bedsole said Duda plans to ship lettuce through mid-April.
He said the deal went well last season and that Duda increased its acreage this year. Bedsole declined to state the acreage or volume.
Duda ships romaine, red leaf, green leaf, escarole, endive, napa, baby bok choy, parsley and cilantro.
Brian Basore, sales manager with TKM Bengard Farms LLC, said lettuce overall survived the freezes well.
He said romaine and other tender leafy items sustained some damage, but that the plants grew out of the damage and harvesters peeled back any bad leaves.
“The quality we are getting is very good,” he said in mid-February. “The varieties we are growing are getting to be very close to the western-style leaf varieties.”
TKM harvests most of its lettuce for fresh-cut processing customers.
TKM plans to harvest through early May.
For south Florida endive-escarole, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported these prices in late February: 1 1/9-bushel cartons/crates 18s include some 14 and 16 count packs, $24.95-25.95; carton 24s, $26.95-27.95.
Last year in late February, the USDA reported endive 1 1/9-bushel cartons/crates 18s include some 14- and 16-count packs selling for $9.95; carton 24s $10.95. Escarole 1 1/9-bushel cartons/crates include some 14- and 16-count packs $10.95; cartons 24s, $11.95.
Disastrous growing conditions in California and Arizona have kept celery prices high.
Demand for South Florida celery has remained strong, Bedsole said. In late February, he quoted $34.95 for cartons of 2s, 2.5s, and 3s.
“Based off what’s going on out west, demand exceeds supply thus far,” he said. “We’re seeing extra demand because of it. Florida quality is very good and volumes are strong. Overall, we’re having a good season in south Florida.”
Bedsole said December’s cold didn’t harm south Florida celery. He said Duda expects to have consistent volumes and strong quality throughout the deal which he said should end in late April. Volume and supplies, he said, should remain consistent with last season’s.
Bedsole said Duda has incrementally increased its celery acreage from the previous season, but declined to state the numbers or volume.
Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager for Pioneer Growers Co-op, called markets strong.
He quoted $12-16 in early February for cartons and crates of 2 dozen.
By late February, the USDA reported cartons and crates of 2 dozen had increased to $16.95.
In mid-October , the U.S. Department of Agriculture was reporting cartons of 2 dozen, 2 1/2 dozen and 3 dozen from south Florida selling for $34.95 compared to last year in late February when the USDA reported those same sizes from south Florida selling for $20.95-21.95
Biederman noted the December cold didn’t ignore celery.
“Early on, it had some cold weather damage but we’ve outgrown that,” he said. “We saw some unreal temperatures, in the 20s in the fields. That will affect the outer leaves and how quickly it grows and how healthy it remains. It has been very nice quality and well-received.”
Though he declined to state acreage, Biederman said celery has done well for Pioneer’s growers and that growers have increased acreage every year including this season.
Pioneer expects to end celery harvesting by April 10.
The December freezes damaged a small amount of Florida radish plantings.
Pioneer’s Biederman said the cold affected some fields but that the short 30-day planting to harvest crop has moved beyond any injuries.
“Moving forward, quality is excellent,” Biederman said in late February. “We are hoping that demand will remain strong and that we can have another decent radish season.”
In early February, Biederman called markets low. He quoted $5-6 for cartons of 30 6-ounce film bags of red radishes.
The USDA in late February reported cartons of topped red 30 6-ounce film bags from south Florida selling for $5.95; 14 1-pound film bags selling for $6.45; 25-pound film bags, $9.95; 40-pound film bags, $14.85.
In late February and early March of last season, the USDA reported cartons topped red 30 6-ounce film bags selling for $6.95; 14 1-pound film bags, $7.45; 25-pound film bags $10.85; 40-pound film bags $16.35.
Bedsole said Duda plans to harvest its radishes to mid- to late May.
“Everything is good on our radishes,” he said in late February. “There are no issues there. Buyers can expect good supplies of a quality product.”
Bedsole said Duda has seen consistent demand for the vegetable.
He and Biederman called last season favorable.
The cold December weather made for a tardy north Florida broccoli deal.
Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., which grows and packs broccoli from Palatka, said the deal, which normally begins in mid-December, didn’t get started until mid-January.
A continuing drought also harmed crop growth during October planting, Lytch said.
Lytch characterizes product integrity as high.
“We have absolutely outstanding quality,” he said in late February. “It is just really, really good.”
Because of heavy rains, Lytch said this season’s western crop has been spotty in quality.
After Georgia’s broccoli deal finishes after Christmas, north Florida production usually runs through mid-April before Georgia returns to production.
South Florida normally picks up in January and goes through late March.
Lytch said Florida production is seeing increasing demand from East Coast buyers interested in lowering freight costs and fresher arrivals.
Lytch called prices strong and quoted $12-14 for 20-pound cartons of iced and iceless broccoli.