Low temperatures in Florida turned some peppers black in Immokalee, said Steve Veneziano, vice president of sales and operations for Oakes Farms. ( Oakes Farms )

Low temperatures and precipitation kept the produce industry on its toes again the week of Jan. 8.

Rain in California prompted flooding and mudslides, Florida saw rain following a recent cold blast, and the Northeast experienced low temperatures combined with freezing rain and sleet.

More than a dozen people died in California mudslides following the Thomas fire devastation, and many homes have been destroyed.

Henry Gonzales, the agricultural commissioner of Ventura County, said that some crops may be affected, but it is too soon to tell.

Because the mudslides largely followed the paths blazed by recent wildfires, it is possible avocados could see further damage, Gonzales said.

The county has been conducting a fire survey and will now probably include questions about the mudslides, Gonzales said.

Ken Melban, vice president of industry affairs for the California Avocado Commission, said that the industry was in a knowledge gap for the moment, with transportation limited due to the damage.

Melban had heard about a few instances of crops being touched by the mudslides: debris runoff through some groves, a tractor being swept away, a building being demolished, but the overall effect on the crop should be relatively minor because the damage was fairly concentrated.

Oxnard-based Mission Produce gave a similar report in a statement from vice president of sales and marketing Brent Scattini.

“The floods and landslides this week have been fairly isolated, and as of right now, we are not aware of any avocado orchards that have been affected,” Scattini said.

Even after the fires and mudslides, the current California avocado crop is expected to be at least 150% of the volume of last season, given avocado trees are alternate-bearing, Melban said.

The state will likely produce at least 300 million pounds of avocados, compared to about 212 million pounds last season, he said. Growers began harvesting fruit the week of Jan. 1.

 

Florida

Rains have slowed harvesting and increased disease pressure in Florida, said Hendry County extension director Gene McAvoy.

He received reports that some crops came through a cold snap in good shape, but corn and beans in the Belle Glade area were damaged.

Strawberries came through OK, with some growers running water over the plants to ice them so the temperature went no lower than 32 degrees.

Steve Veneziano, vice president of sales and operations for Oakes Farms, said the company lost 90% of its cucumbers and 75% of its squash to te cold. About half its hot and sweet peppers were affected as well. Cold also stressed eggplant, decreasing yields.

Oakes will have pepper production back to normal in 3-4 weeks, Veneziano said. The company already replanted squash, so it will be in light production on that commodity for the next month and then closer to normal volumes after that. The spring crop will be much larger than usual.

Veneziano said that although market prices are up for various Florida crops, losses and decreased yields have lowered overall returns.

 

Northeast

Produce wholesalers in Philadelphia reported a dip in business early the week of Jan. 8 due to cold and freezing rain.

“It’s been challenging,” said John Hickey, managing partner at Coosemans Philadelphia, who said weather also affects foodservice sales.

Some trucks had to pull over because of road conditions, and equipment failures were also an issue, with reefers icing or trucks not starting in the cold, Hickey said.

Lou Struble, director of business development and special projects for Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., said most trucks were able to leave but were delayed later by road closures and slow traffic.

Struble, too, said business was down a bit because people tend to hunker down and wait for the cold to pass instead of going out for food.

Both companies expected warmer weather later in the week and hoped highs in the 40s would get rid of some of the snow and ice.

 
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