Salinas deal kicks off with high volumes, low prices

04/26/2013 03:32:00 PM
Mike Hornick

SALINAS, Calif. — As Salinas Valley vegetable production resumed in full force in mid-April, favorable growing weather and high volumes clamped a tight lid on markets for everything but cauliflower.

In the just-completed winter deal in Yuma, Ariz., shifting extremes of heat and cold had choked the pipeline for many commodities. That sent f.o.b. prices on 24-count cartons of romaine, for one, up to around $35 as February began, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By April 15, the same item shipped for just $6.56-7.95 for most buyers. The Yuma prices were a distant memory. Welcome to Salinas.

“Lettuce is coming off a pretty good correction from the desert,” said Henry Dill, sales manager for Salinas-based Pacific International Marketing.

“The markets are in the $7-8 range on leaf and head lettuce. Those are the levels we had to deal with last year during the summertime, and it wasn’t much fun.”

“We didn’t think we were going to have the sky-high markets that we had in the desert, but it turned out to be a little lackluster compared to what we thought would happen,” said Mark McBride, salesman for Salinas-based Coastline Produce.

Coastline finished up its transitional Huron deal and was fully in Salinas by April 17.

Mark Adamek, general manager for romaine and mixed leaf production for Tanimura & Antle, said he anticipates promotable supplies of lettuce through the summer.

“For this time of year for lettuce to be $7-10 depending on the variety, my gut feeling is that the deal has to be overplanted,” Adamek said.

“The homegrowns haven’t kicked in yet and the East Coast is no longer buried in 6 feet of snow.”

Broccoli was a different story — but only briefly. Cartons of bunched 14s shipped in late March from Salinas were around $14, and 20-pound loose crown cut went for around $16, Dill said.

By April 15, the bunched was just $6.25-7.50 and the crown cut mostly $7.35-8.50, according to the USDA.

“There were lighter supplies during the transition to Salinas, a little gap in the supply and the markets on both broccoli and cauliflower showed it,” said Sammy Duda, vice president of Duda Farm Fresh Foods.

“It got warm in the desert, which hastened the end of that crop. The crop here was a few days behind and so it was just not a smooth transition.”

“Cauliflower is red hot,” Duda said.

That market didn’t back down as quickly as broccoli. Cartons of film-wrapped white 12s were mostly $19.55-20.50 in mid-April, little changed or even slightly higher than a few weeks before.

“We call cauliflower the temperamental commodity,” said Gabriela D’Arrigo, saleswoman and marketing coordinator for D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California.

“We do a three-hour count making sure we’ve got the right numbers, but it can change in two-degree temperatures drops. Your numbers change and fluctuate all the time.”

In April, Salinas had several consecutive nights of nighttime temperatures in the mid-40s. Nothing sensational, but it brought cauliflower growth to a screeching halt, McBride said. If nights grow warmer, volumes could come on rapidly.

Butch Corda, general manager for Ippolito International, said early concerns that the valley’s vegetables might start a week late — partly due to slow arriving rainfall — didn’t materialize.

“The fields and crops here have good stands and good quality,” Corda said. “It looks to be a smooth transition.”

Two important crops — brussels sprouts and celery — return to production in Salinas in June.

In April growers waited to see whether seeders pressure develops on Oxnard-grown celery, a seasonal risk for that crop.

Artichokes grow in Castroville even in winter, but April and May are the peak months. This year is no exception.

“Quality is the best it’s been in several years and supplies are excellent,” said Dale Huss, vice president of artichoke production for Castroville-based Ocean Mist Farms.

Artichokes benefited from moderate March temperatures.

“Growing conditions have been ideal,” Huss said.

While vegetable markets overall were depressed, that could change, said Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development for Church Bros. LLC.

“I would probably agree there’s some overplanting,” Van Eeghen said.

“In the winter the prices were through the roof and the markets were tight, and we farmers react to that. I would guess we’re a bit long here but that’s going to correct itself in time. It’s very cyclical.”

Acreage adjustments never end, Duda said. His company planned increases for fresh-cut celery, but minor shifts overall.

“We’ve been trying to get our numbers right for the midsummer and not compete as much with the homegrown areas,” he said. “We’re trying to right-size our programs for that.”



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