California grower-shippers on Oct. 14 were quoting $32-35 for 20 pounds of loose crown-cut broccoli out of Salinas and Santa Maria. That’s up from $7.65-10.48 on July 15, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics reported before the government shutdown Oct. 1.
Crown-cut broccoli bre-ached the $20 mark around Sept. 23, soon after Hurricane Manuel hit Mexico, and kept climbing. The high markets are expected to continue at least two more weeks.
“The hurricane came in and clobbered Acapulco at the same time a storm came in off the Gulf of Mexico, so the production areas in central Mexico got a one-two punch that reduced their volume,” said Mark McBride, salesman for Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce. “We’ve been $29-31 for bunches (of 14s and 18s), and crowns anywhere from $32-35.”
Memories of weak markets past kept California acreage down this year, particularly in Salinas. But yields were also down as fall came on, as seeds fine-tuned for the Central Coast climate often ran into temperatures or humidity slightly higher or lower than they like.
“The majority of the broccoli this time of year comes from Santa Maria, and a lot of varieties there are not responding well to changes in weather,” said Henry Dill, sales manager for Pacific International Marketing. “A lot of guys have acreage just sitting there doing nothing for a couple of weeks.”
“Warm and cold in Salinas are not what people experience in other parts of the country,” McBride said. “It’s relative, but if you’ve got a seed bred for the warmer temperatures we typically have in the fall, and we don’t get them, the seeds underperform.”
Broccoli is a $316 million crop in Monterey County — fourth behind leaf lettuce, strawberries and head lettuce — but growers don’t always speak of it glowingly.
“I can’t remember the last time we planted broccoli in Salinas and it was profitable,” Dill said. “In past years, the broccoli market has been pretty dismal here, and many grower-shippers have been hesitant to put a lot of broccoli in the ground. We have to plant some for rotation.”
Pacific International was quoting $34 or $35 on crowns, Dill said.
“People are hoping for a more normal situation when we get production established in the desert,” McBride said. “But we’re not out of the woods there either because there was rain a few weeks ago in northern Baja and across the desert areas. Some of the first fields on many items are showing a bit of damage.”
The transition to desert broccoli production varies by grower-shipper, but happens mid- to late-November.