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Some crops will be in short supply through December

by Tim Linden | November 22, 2011

The always-heavy demand prior to the Thanksgiving holiday caused a number of items to spike in price in mid- to late November, including some vegetable crops that saw f.o.b. markets in excess of $20. While the early-December lull will bring some markets down, several other items, including the cole crops, are expected to remain in short supply possibly through the end of December.

Better-than-average markets will also be noted for green onions, Romaine hearts and strawberries, but Iceberg lettuce and some of the other leaf items were expected to return to a more normal range for much of December.

Of course, weather plays a bigger role during this time of year, so unusually warm weather might eliminate supply gaps while cold and/or rainy weather could exacerbate the demand-exceeds-supply situation.

Jeff Percy, vice president of desert production for Ocean Mist Farms, which is based in Castroville, CA, told The Produce News Nov. 21 that "prices have been way up this past week [for most vegetable items] and I'm not quite sure all the items will hold those prices, but some will."

He said that cauliflower and broccoli will remain in short supply for at least the next three or four weeks, which will bring the calendar into the Christmas marketing season.

"Because of the earlier heat and then cold weather, we are only at 60 percent of normal volume [for those crops]," he said.

He said that most of the leaf items should see a jump in supply the first week of December, but that won't be the case for Romaine hearts. "They'll be short for at least three more weeks," he said, "but we could have a big heat wave and that will change everything."

Kyle Smith, a green onion specialist at Fresh Innovations in Yuma, AZ, said supplies of that crop will also be short for the next several weeks. "My supplies [from the Yuma area] are normal, but I am hearing that supplies are light everywhere else," he said. "I hear bad weather took out 600 acres in Mexico."

Mr. Smith said that the market on green onions has been above normal for most of the last couple of months, and he expects that to continue. "We are averaging $12 to $16 depending upon the size. Under normal situations, the market would be $10 to about $13."

Douglas Schaefer, president of EJ's Produce Sales Inc. in Phoenix, told The Produce News a couple of days before Thanksgiving that he wasn't so certain the hot market would prevail after the holiday.

"[Cauliflower] and broccoli were short, but then product from Mexico, especially broccoli, flooded the market through McAllen [Texas] and that took care of the good prices."

He said that the week after Thanksgiving typically sees the market drop off quite a bit and he was anticipating the same thing this year, though he said a few commodities might remain in short supply.

"I think most things will get back to normal except for strawberries," he said. "You can't find a good one anywhere."

Cindy Jewel, director of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms in Watsonville, CA, confirmed that strawberries are in short supply, but she said it is just a seasonal lull.

Over the last couple of decades, California strawberry growers have stretched the deal out at both ends with longer-lasting varieties, she said. Today it is almost a 12-month deal but late November and early December is always the potential gap period.

"This time of the year we are sourcing from both Mexico and Florida," Ms. Jewel said. "They are completely different areas, so we expect to get good supplies from at least one of the two."

But she added that overall strawberries supplies are at their lowest point of the year, so it makes sense that a stronger market will prevail.

But those looking for a berry fix can switch over to blackberries or blue berries, which are both in plentiful supply, Ms. Jewel said.