Salinas Valley broccoli harvest starts slowly

04/22/2011 02:02:10 PM
Mike Hornick

The Salinas Valley broccoli deal began in March ahead of lettuce, but harvesting was slowed by steady rains that hit at the end of March.

“Where we’d go through a field and get 300 cartons in a first harvest of broccoli, we were getting 150,” said Rick Antle, chief executive officer of Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle.

“Every time you go through a field you damage it and reduce your yields.”

“They’re able to harvest broccoli and cauliflower in rain, but it slowed us down a bit,” said Doug Classen, sales manager for Salinas-based The Nunes Co.

With the Arizona broccoli deal wrapped up by the first week of April, supplies were tight, Antle said.

In Salinas, which saw more than 3 inches of rain in one week, growers anticipated some early quality issues.

“You’ve got to watch for a watermark,” said John D’Arrigo, president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California, Salinas.

“It sits on top of the broccoli and tends to cause a stain that will eventually lead to rot. Everybody’s on the lookout for that.”

But by April 12, Salinas prices on 14-count cartons showed only a modest increase over the past year, at $9-9.65 compared to $8-9.45 in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Prices out of Santa Maria were $7.50-8.55, compared to $7-8.50 a year ago.

South of the Salinas Valley, that region also had concerns after 11 inches of rain fell during one March weekend on nearby coastal mountains. Runoff ended up in the Santa Maria River and flooded some fields.

The first two weeks of April saw the return of sunshine to both regions.

In the Salinas Valley, broccoli trails only head and leaf lettuce in cash value among vegetable crops. It was a $280 million crop in Monterey County in 2009, the last year for which data are available. There were 56,423 acres planted.

Cauliflower was valued at $112 million, with 18,817 acres.

Despite those big numbers the two crops offer growers limited returns, said Sammy Duda, vice president of Oviedo, Fla.-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods.

“Both are very good rotational crops, but they’re difficult to make money on,” Duda said.

“Typically people don’t make money on either one of them. It depends on where you’re growing. On the more inexpensive ground — south Monterey County, Santa Maria — you can make a go of it depending on what your cropping pattern is. On the more expensive rents, like Blanco, it’s almost impossible to make money. The grow costs are just too high.”



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