Georgia growers plan to begin harvesting traditional southern vegetables on time or about a week later than normal for the 2010 spring season.
Shippers are expressing concern, however, about how prices could react if central and south Florida remains in volume when Georgia begins its production of bell peppers, cucumbers, squash and eggplant.
Though prices for some items shot to abnormally high levels following an unfavorable winter filled with shortages in Florida, sellers say prices have begun to fall and they expect more normal pricing for the spring.
Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. sprays off eggplant last season. L&M grows and packs eggplant from south Florida and Georgia. Its south Georgia volume should start in early June, says operations manager Adam Lytch.
With late winter and early spring prices hitting stratospheric levels, south Georgia packers of bell peppers expect prices to fall by the start of harvest.
In south Florida, where January freezes and months of cloudy and rainy growing weather kept plants from growing, prices shot up to as high as $50 for 1 1/9-bushel cartons green jumbos.
By late April, however, those prices, while still higher than normal, eased a little, falling to $40.35-40.85 for jumbos, $30.35-36.85 for extra large, $20.35-20.85 for large, $14.35-16.85 for medium, and irregular size fair quality selling for $14.35-16.85, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Last year in late April, peppers from south Florida sold for $10.35-12.85 for jumbos, $10.35-10.85 for extra large, large, $8.35-8.85, and mediums at $6.35-8.85.
“At one time, people were paying $45 or more for chopper pepper and on large and medium,” said Steven Johnson, salesman for South Georgia Produce Inc., Lake Park. “Anything that resembled a green bell pepper was worth a lot of money. As far as big jumbos, there’s just no big pepper down there (south Florida) now.”
Johnson in late April said South Georgia Produce expected to begin harvesting its south Georgia peppers on-time May 20-24. Though volume normally runs through the end of June, Johnson said South Georgia Produce in the past has gone through the second week of July.
An expected overlap between central Florida harvesting and south Georgia’s start shouldn’t harm Georgia production, said Harry Sheaffer, salesman for Blackwater Produce LLC, Lake Park, Ga., the sales agent for Coggins Farm and Produce Inc., Lake Park.
“Usually, we are packing a big pepper during that time,” he said. “It doesn’t normally interfere a lot as we’re not packing off-grade stuff that they’re packing. They won’t have much big pepper then. A lot of it kind of evens out. It may push together a little to where there may be a little bit of an oversupply during that short period.”
While the unfavorable weather has caused late starts for other items, Sheaffer said peppers should start on-time.
Prices for cucumbers were trending higher in late April as problems with some of Florida’s production became apparent.
Georgia’s deal normally begins in mid-May and ends by early July.
Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., which grows and packs pole-grown cucumbers from south Florida and Georgia, quoted $16 for 1 1/9-bushel cartons in late April.
That’s higher than the prices reported by the USDA which in early and mid-April said 1 1/9-bushel cartons of cucumbers from Florida were selling for $14.35-14.85.
Last year in late April, the USDA reported 1 1/9-bushel cartons and crates waxed medium from south and central Florida selling for $20.35-20.85, fair quality for $14.35-16.85; carton 24s for $8-9.
“The market has been kind of low the last couple of weeks, but it has been trending higher,” Lytch said. “There have been some issues in south Florida, where there has been a lot of disease pressure. It’s getting late to be in production in south Florida, which is normally finished up by this time and production moves up north, but everything has been delayed this year.”
Lytch said L&M had some cucumbers planted in south Florida that normally require 55 days to make a crop. Because of the colder-than-normal winter and early spring this year, however, those plantings took 90 days, he said.
Jon Schwalls, director of operations for Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable Inc., Norman Park, Ga., said cucumber movement stalled a little after Easter in early April but began picking up in late April.
“Movement is good now,” he said in late April. “Prices are beginning to tighten after stalling.”
Schwalls quoted $16-18 for cartons of supers.
He said an unexpected early cold snap that struck in mid-October prematurely cut off Georgia’s fall crop. The fall deal normally runs through late November.
The grower-shipper planned to start harvesting its pole-grown cucumbers May 10.
Blackwater plans to begin shipments in mid- to late May.
Sheaffer said Plant City, Fla., was to start shipments in late April and early May, overlapping a little with the south Georgia deal.
Sheaffer said scattered disease harmed south Georgia’s fall cucumbers, which he said also finished a little earlier than expected because of quality and disease issues.
He said he doesn’t expect to see those issues this spring. Such conditions, Sheaffer said, are more likely to happen to Georgia fall production which usually experiences more challenging growing conditions.
Shay Kennedy, co-owner, vice president and sales manager of Georgia Vegetable Co. Inc., Tifton, called cucumber plants healthy.
“They look really great,” she said in mid-April. “Everything looks really nice.”
Kennedy said she hopes this season’s deal will bring the packing of a higher number of supers.
Georgia Vegetables planned to start pickings May 20 and finish at the end of June.
Because of pollination problems in south and central Florida, prices for some squash varieties have been slowly increasing during the spring.
Joey Johnson, president of J&S Produce Inc., Mount Vernon, Ga., said bees in south Florida have been pollinating mango trees and other tropicals instead of squash.
That, he said, hasn’t affected quality but has limited yields and boosted prices.
Prices for in late March reported by the USDA:
half- and 5/9-bushel crates and cartons of zucchini small from central and south Florida sold for $12-14.85 and medium for $6-6.85;yellow straightneck small sold for $12-12.85 and medium for $10-10.85; and
three-quarter bushel cartons of yellow crookneck small sold for $8-10.85 and medium for $6-6-85.
By mid-April, however, brought higher prices:
$12-14.85 for small and medium zucchini from Florida;
$20-20.85 for small yellow straightneck, $18-18.85 for medium; and
$18-20 for small yellow crookneck and $14-16. medium.
Johnson said his growers planned to begin harvesting in late April and run throughout the summer through late November.
Last year, J&S’ growers finished at Thanksgiving.
Georgia Vegetable planned to start shipments in early May.
Kennedy said south Georgia should bring a normal spring season.
“The plants look really pretty and good,” she said in mid-April. “The growers are planting them and getting them in the ground on time. We are anticipating a very good crop.”
South Georgia Produce planned to begin its harvesting by early May, about two to three weeks later than normal.
Steven Johnson in late April said cooler-than-normal temperatures caused the small delay.
Though central Florida harvesting overlapped a little with south Georgia’s start, Johnson said Georgia growers last spring experienced a fairly strong squash deal.
He characterized last fall’s deal as sufficient with growers receiving a return on their investments.
Lower supplies from Florida have brought higher-than-normal prices.
Because of the cold weather that struck Florida during January and February, Florida volume has been scarce.
In late April, Lytch quoted $20.35-20.85 for 1 1/9-bushel cartons of eggplant from south Florida.
The USDA in late April reported the same price from south Florida with fair quality going for $14.35-16.85.
“Florida is very late,” Lytch said in late April. “Their eggplant was very slow to recover from the cold. However, I don’t think there will be any problem with the transition to Georgia this year. As delayed as everything is in south Florida, we should see pretty stable supplies once we do get started. We will carry on until we get to south Georgia. We will just have smaller volumes from Florida.”
L&M, which grows and packs eggplant from south Florida and Georgia, expects to begin its south Georgia volume in early June.
Georgia Vegetable’s Kennedy said most buyers have sourced supplies from Mexico or Honduras.
She quoted $20-25 in early to mid-April.
“There hasn’t been much product this year,” Kennedy said. “We had a good deal last spring.”
South Georgia Produce plans to begin its harvesting May 10-19.
“Eggs last fall were a good item for us,” said Steven Johnson. “Pricing was good. They weren’t $20, but more like $8-10 for much of the season. An $8 (price for) egg(plant) is something these guys will be happy about as long as the packout is good.”
Georgia’s eggplant harvesting normally runs through mid-July.
Freezing weather has harmed south Georgia’s winter and early spring production of greens.
The abnormally cold weather cut volume by 25%, said Georgia Vegetable’s Kennedy.
“Because of the bad weather we have had, growers were in a bad situation this season,” she said in mid-April. “There was quite a shortage on greens.”
Normally, south Georgia ships collards, kale, mustard greens and turnip tops from early October through the end of May.
Kennedy said she expects her growers to ship through the end of May but ship smaller volumes.
She said the cold burned tips, yellowed leaves and shocked the plants by bringing freezing temperatures the day after favorable temperatures and have made for production of good to fair quality greens.
“The greens haven’t been the best this season,” she said.
Despite the production cuts and quality concerns, prices, Kennedy said, have remained normal to steadily increasing.
Because of the expense of growing the crops, prices have been slowly increasing during the last two years, she said.