Lighter Georgia pepper, cucumber volume forecast
Bell peppers
Coming off consecutive disappointing seasons, Georgia bell pepper grower-shippers this season are hoping for better markets.

Spring 2010 was rough, shippers say, as freezes delayed product from Florida and backed-up deals from south Florida through the Carolinas. Fall started better, they say, but only for those who had early pepper.

Steven Johnson, salesman for South Georgia Produce Inc., Lake Park, characterized pepper prices in mid-April as low. He said he thinks prices could rise as Florida volume gets closer to ending.

“There has been some warm weather down there,” Johnson said. “I just don’t think there will be that everlasting supply of pepper we have seen in years past that continues from Florida to south Georgia and doesn’t miss a beat. There will definitely be a skip. Coupled with the decreased acreage, I think these guys have a chance to have some healthy markets this season.”

Harry Sheaffer, salesman for Blackwater Produce LLC, Lake Park, the sales agent for Coggins Farm and Produce Inc., said Coggins Farm expects to begin harvesting May 25, on time.

He notes the market is paying better prices for the smaller peppers.

“Jumbos are very plentiful and are fairly cheap,” he said in mid-April. “But off-grade pepper and the large, medium and small sizes — they’re hard to come by. They’re getting more money than the jumbos, which doesn’t happen that much. There is definitely more demand for the smaller sizes than the jumbos.”

In late April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 1 1/9-bushel cartons from central and south Florida at $12.85 for jumbos and extra-large and $10.85-$12.85 for large.

That compares to last year in late April, when Florida pepper sold for $40.35-40.85 for jumbos, $30.35-36.85 for extra large and $20.35-20.85 for large.

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said prices had been all over the place on the jumbos throughout March but bottomed out in mid-April.

Lytch said a March cold snap delayed some plantings but spring temperatures since have been extremely warm. That should bring the crops in on time, he said.

L&M plans to load north Florida bell peppers grown near Branford, Fla., out of its Moultrie, Ga., facility in mid-May, helping extend its Georgia window. L&M plans to begin its Georgia bells in late May.

“Instead of having a six-week window, we will have an eight-nine week window,” Lytch said.

Georgia’s bell pepper deal usually begins in late May and typically finishes in early July.

Cucumbers
Buyers should expect some small supply gaps during the transition from Florida cucumbers to south Georgia production.

“There won’t be a big gap, but there will be a shortage of product during the end of April and the first two weeks of May,” said Steven Johnson, salesman for South Georgia Produce Inc., Lake Park. “I don’t think Florida will extend into us with a heavy supply of cucumbers. Buyers should expect lighter supplies the first couple of weeks of May.”

Though central Florida often runs up against Georgia production, Johnson said he’s hearing that both regions will have less acreage.

Georgia production normally starts in mid- to late May and finishes in late June.

Johnson said South Georgia Produce expects to begin its cucumber harvest May 10-14.

Harry Sheaffer, salesman for Blackwater Produce LLC, Lake Park, the sales agent for Coggins Farm and Produce Inc., said the earlier-than-expected finish of Honduras production helped create the gap.

“There’s nowhere near the volume that has come across,” he said in mid-April.

Sheaffer said Mexico’s supply problem caused by the surprise freezes and the slow beginning of the domestic U.S. deal has made for a month of tight cucumber supplies.

He called early April prices high and noted how prices had fallen to $28 but still called that a lot of money for supers.

The USDA in late April reported 1 1/9-bushel cartons of cucumbers from Florida were selling for $16.95-18.95 for waxed mediums.

Last season, the USDA in early and mid-May reported that same size from Florida selling for $14.35-14.85.

“The cucumber deal has been extremely strong over the last several weeks and supplies have been pretty limited,” said Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.

Lytch said opening prices in Georgia can vary widely and said the season doesn’t usually open with a “normal” price anymore.

Billy Thomas, president of Georgia Vegetable Co. Inc., Tifton, said crop conditions appear favorable.

“Everything looks good,” he said in mid-April. “We have had good weather and rainfall has been decent.”

Thomas agreed that cucumbers should be in light supply.

Though some growers may harvest into early July, Georgia cucumber harvesting typically runs through mid- to late June.

Squash
Georgia generally starts squash harvest in late April and early May.

Georgia Vegetable’s Thomas said the squash plants look well.

“There will be a good crop of squash this season,” he said in mid-April. “All the zucchinis and yellow squash look real good.”

In mid-April, prices had begun to increase, said Steven Johnson, salesman for South Georgia Produce Inc., Lake Park.

The USDA in late April reported these prices for half- and 5/9-bushel crates and cartons from central and south Florida: yellow straightneck small, $10.85, medium, $8.85; zucchini small, $8.85, medium, $6.85; three-quarter bushel cartons of yellow crookneck small $10.85, medium, $6.85.

Last year in mid-April from Florida, the USDA reported these prices: yellow straightneck small, $20-20.85, medium, $18-18.85; $12-14.85 for zucchini small and medium; yellow crookneck small, $18-20, medium, $14-16.

Harry Sheaffer, salesman for Blackwater Produce LLC, Lake Park, the sales agent for Coggins Farm and Produce Inc., said the crop looked healthy.

“Outside of a few storms here and there, everything has been pretty ideal for growing,” he said.

Sheaffer said prices were beginning to improve in mid-April.

Sheaffer said Mexico had been putting some pressure on the market and said the deal in late spring gets so spread out via production in Homestead, Fla., and other south and central Florida regions.

Sheaffer said the markets should remain mixed until growers begin finishing in Florida.

Georgia’s squash production typically finishes in early July.

Eggplant

Georgia growers usually begin eggplant production in early June and finish by mid-July.

The crop appears healthy, said Steven Johnson, salesman for South Georgia Produce Inc., Lake Park.

“So far, the crop that’s out looks good,” he said in mid-April. “We should have a real good crop of eggplant this season.”

Thomas called last spring prices average. Though he declined to state acreage, Thomas said Georgia Vegetable this season reduced its acreage.

Georgia Vegetable plans to harvest through mid-July.

Johnson said he hopes less supply could help prices.

“We have been told there are not as many eggs in central Florida as in the past,” Johnson said in mid-April. “Eggs have been tight all winter. They’re probably one of the tightest items we deal with week-in and week-out.”

Johnson said Florida typically overlaps south Georgia production by a couple of weeks. As the central Florida growing region is only a three to four hour drive from south Georgia, Johnson said some Florida growers would try to send their eggs to south Georgia packing sheds for cooling and shipping.

In late April, the USDA $20.85-24.85 for 1 1/9-bushel cartons of eggplant from all Florida districts, higher than last season at the same time when the USDA reported $20.35-20.85.

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said severe heat damaged much eggplant last spring.

Johnson said last season started strong at $12 in early production, then went to $10 but quickly fell to the bottom around $5-6 when the deal saw an oversupply.

Harry Sheaffer, salesman for Blackwater Produce LLC, Lake Park, the sales agent for Coggins Farm and Produce Inc., sadi Coggins Farm plans to harvest through late May but, depending on market conditions, could harvest much longer, through parts of July.

“We had low prices last fall on most everything with the exception of eggplant, as there wasn’t as much planted last fall,” Sheaffer said.

Georgia’s eggplant deal usually runs through early July or a little later before moving to the Carolinas and into New Jersey.

Greens
Extreme heat that followed earlier season cold temperatures caused a premature ending of Georgia’s greens.

Instead of packing through mid- to late May as normal, Georgia Vegetable said it would likely finish shipments by early May.

Steven Johnson, salesman for South Georgia Produce Inc., Lake Park, said the season was providing low volume in mid-April after the heat caused seed stems.

Normally, south Georgia ships collards, kale, mustard greens and turnip tops from early October through the end of May.