Cabbage and potato supplies should be plentiful for any St. Patrick's Day promotions this year, grower-shippers say.

South Florida cabbage fields were ready to burst into product a bit early, growers there said Feb. 15.

"We've had perfect growing conditions - it's actually been a little bit too warm, and some growers will actually be cutting St. Paddy's Day cabbage early because it's so warm and the crop is coming," said Calvert Cullen, president of Cheriton, Va.-based Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., which grows cabbage on 200 acres around in Florida's Okeechobee region.

Once the deal gets underway, there will be plenty of high-quality product available, Cullen said.

On the other hand, volumes likely will keep prices below last year's $10 level, Cullen said.

"It will never get there this year," he said. "I think it will be between $8 and $9."

The deal typically gets underway in earnest around March 1, but this year, some growers won't be able to wait that long, Cullen said.

"There will be some guys cutting next week just because of the weather," he said.

Mike Owens, a salesman for Belle Glade, Fla.-based Pioneer Growers Co-op, also expected robust supplies heading into the holiday.

"I expect there to be a lot of cabbage out there for St. Paddy's Day, although I'm hearing some of the cabbage is way ahead of where they planned and will come off a little early," said Owen, whose organization represents 300 acres of cabbage for a January-May window.

With harvest getting under way three weeks ahead of St. Patrick's Day, in some cases, it could lead to a little tightening of the market just ahead of the holiday, Owen noted.

"But I expect there will still be enough around, but it will bring in more money," he said.

The market was mostly around $6, but some was selling for less, Owen said.

"There's more supplies than demand right now," he said.

A relatively problem-free growing season is producing a lot of high-quality cabbage, Owen said.

"Quality's been great," he said. "We're having a bumper crop, basically, and so is everyone in Florida."

Potatoes

There will be plenty of potatoes available for holiday promotions, as well, said Keith Groven, fresh sales manager with Grand Forks, N.D.-based Black Gold Farms.

"The St. Patrick's Day holiday, for reds, indexes almost as strongly as Thanksgiving," he said.

It's also one of the last major promotional events before the end of the storage season, Groven said.

Volumes will be adequate, even after a relatively small crop went into storage, Groven noted.

"Last year was a near-record harvest, and we had just a whole bunch of potatoes. This year, with a smaller crop, there's not as many in storage, but that's not going to affect availability," he said.

Paul Dolan, general manager for Associated Potato Growers Inc. in Grand Forks, N.D., said there will be supplies available for any promotional need related to St. Patrick's Day.

"We'll have ample supplies to supply any ad or promotion they can throw at us, and we should have the quality we need, as well," he said.

A possible caveat would be size-B reds, Dolan said.

"There' not a lot of profile on B-size this year in the (Red River) Valley," he said.

That should give prices a bit of a bump, Dolan said.

"Short supply on B's may affect it somewhat," he said.

Ralph Schwartz, vice president of marketing, sales and innovation at Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Potandon Produce LLC, said white potatoes from Maine likely will be in relatively short supply.

"They will be coming toward the end of the storage season," he said. "There will be Florida whites available, though."

Markets for whites likely will be elevated due to the shortness of supplies, but not so for reds and russets, Schwartz said.

"I think both the other markets are going to remain close to where they're at right now," he said.

Quality won't be an issue, Schwartz said.

"I do know B-(sized) reds are going to be an item, kind of tight," he said.

St. Patrick's Day is, in a sense, an extension of the Idaho Potato Commission's Potato Lovers Month, which runs each February, said Derek Peterson, vice president of sales and marketing for Wilcox Fresh in Rexburg, Idaho.

"We've experienced good demand through February from retailers and it's kind of pushed over to St. Patrick's Day," he said.

Idaho is coming off a productive growing season, Peterson noted.

"We saw probably above-average yields and above average quality across the state," he said. "We have enough supplies to support any ad."

 
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