Jon Browder, sales manager for Pioneer Growers Cooperative Inc., says growing conditions have been ideal and the company expects excellent corn quality and yields. ( Photo courtesy Pioneer Growers )

Florida’s spring vegetable deal already was going at full throttle as March began, growers said.

“We’re in the middle of harvest with everything,” said Perry Yance, assistant vegetable farm manager for Oviedo, Fla.-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., the fresh division of Oviedo -based A. Duda & Sons Inc.

Everything looked good, Yance said in late February.

Prevailing dry conditions have helped keep disease and input pressure under control, Yance said.

“The little cold snap we had in January actually helped,” he said. “Our warm pressure never let up last year. This year, we’re guessing the cold gave us a little bit of a break.”

Duda’s spring deal includes celery, radishes and other crops, as well as sweet corn, Yance said.

There also is a bit of organic celery, Yance said.

“It’s challenging, but we have good quality this year,” he said of the organic side.

Volumes on all vegetable items should be comparable to last year, Yance said.

“The hurricane (Irma, in early September) did steal a few acres on the front end, but acres we didn’t plant in September would have been harvested in December,” he said.

Duda will harvest its leafy items until the end of March and celery by first week of May. Radishes and sweet corn should last until the end of May, Yance said.

In all, Duda has nearly 10,000 acres in Florida.

Belle Glade, Fla.-based Scotlynn Sweet Pac Growers LLC anticipates a strong year in sweet corn, said Bryan Biederman, partner.

The deal was scheduled to begin in mid-March and last until the end of May, Biederman said.

“In years past, we’ve had weather issues with freezes or heavy rains and been delayed with good volume, but we’re seeing good volumes in mid-March this year,” he said.

The crop hasn’t had any weather-related interruptions, Biederman said.

“Lots of sun and warm nights and that brings the crop on,” he said. “If you have overcast days and cool nights, it’s not going to be as good.”

Quality of radishes and cabbage has been excellent, Biederman said.

“We’ve found demand slowed down quite a bit in February, but we’re looking forward to March and April,” he said.

Cheriton, Va.-based Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., which grows cabbage, squash, peppers, eggplant and cucumbers on about 600 acres in a Florida deal based in Boynton Beach, anticipates stronger markets in the spring, said Calvert Cullen, president.

“Now, everything is pretty cheap,” he said Feb. 23. “We’re coming off some high markets a few weeks ago, but things have settled down.”

Growers expect a quick rebound with St. Patrick’s Day, he said.

“Hopefully, starting (in March), we’ll get things started,” he said.

Northampton Growers will have cabbage and squash out of Florida into April, before moving into a Georgia deal, Cullen said.

Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. has been moving cabbage, greens and broccoli out of its Palatka and Hastings, Fla., acreage since Christmas, said Johnny Lunsford, salesman with the Palatka office.

Weather presented some challenges in the early going, Lunsford said.

“The majority of the growing season, we’ve had poor weather — cold, rainy,” he said. “The sun has come out the last couple of weeks, though, and it’s helping, but yields will be less than anticipated.”

L&M has some organic cabbage, greens and broccoli, and weather has taken a toll on those crops as well, Lunsford said.

The focus is peppers and cucumbers at Myakka City, Fla.-based Utopia Packing LLC, a division of Utopia Farms, said Jim Monteith, sales manager.

“It’s probably going to be sooner than later because we’re experienced above-normal temperatures,” he said.

Growers anticipated the pepper deal would be underway by mid-March, which would be normal, Monteith said.

At Belle Glade, Fla.-based Pioneer Growers Cooperative Inc., which grows sweet corn, green beans, radishes, cabbage and celery, everything was looking good, said Jon Browder, sales manager.

“The upcoming spring corn and bean crop should have both excellent quality and yields,” he said. “We have had ideal growing conditions the past several weeks.”

Corn and bean markets were a little weak in late February, but they were expected to bounce back, Browder said.

“Cooler weather in the Northeast and Midwest has halted sales, but with warmer weather coming, it looks to maybe increase sales in upcoming weeks,” he said.

Steve Veneziano, director of operations for Oakes Farms Inc., Immokalee, Fla., agreed.

“The spring, I think, will see pretty fair markets, good promotable opportunities on squash and bell peppers, with some large acreage,” he said.

“We’ll be harvesting about 250 acres of summer squash for the spring season, which is a nice quantity, so we have some pretty strong promotions going on for the spring.”

Parrish, Fla.-based Jones Potato Farm will have plenty of product, said Alan Jones, owner.

“The crop’s good.” He said. “I think there are plenty of red potatoes around.”

Ample truck availability should help in timely deliveries, Jones said.

“That’s one of the best things we’ve got going for us,” he said.

 
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