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Good growing weather, bad buying weather combine for depressed markets

One California shipper said it a "classic example of beautiful weather out here (California) combining with terrible weather in the East to produce cheap low markets."

David Cook, sales manager for Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, CA, said "we have had gorgeous weather for weeks on end. It seems our winter came during a two week period in early December and it has been beautiful ever since."

He said that has led to better than usual supplies and East Coast movement that is down a bit because of the terrible weather.

Concurring was Mark McBride, who sits on the sales desk for Coastline in Salinas, CA. "The last 10 days we have hit 70 degrees with no rain or cold. These are ideal growing conditions. Coupled with the Arctic Vortex and all the other storms in the East that are resulting in schools closings and white outs everywhere, we are seeing demand disrupted and shipments delayed."

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, McBride said he expects the supply exceeds demand situation to remain in effect until normal weather patterns return to both coasts. As he was speaking to this reporter, the Los Angeles area was basking in 80 degree temperatures with lots of sunshine, while New York City was 18 degrees with snow showers. "Anytime you have the two halves of the country doing that, we are not going to have good markets," he said, quipping that the reverse is what causes good markets.

McBride said cauliflower prices were fairly good for the first two weeks of the new year, but by the third week they had dropped down to the $10 f.o.b. mark, which still created a high spot on the sales board. Many other staple items, including iceberg lettuce, romaine, leaf items, celery and broccoli were selling well below the double digit level into deep red number territory.

One of the few strong items was peppers, which are mostly coming from Mexico through Nogales, AZ, at this time of the year. Mike Aiton, marketing manager at Prime Time Sales LLC, Coachella, CA, said cold weather early in the Mexican growing season has delayed heavy production of peppers. He added that cold weather in Florida also hampered production of peppers from that region. "Usually we are not sending a lot of peppers to the East Coast at this time of year but this year we are," he offered.

Aiton does not expected a big jump in volume until early February and even then, the strong market could continue, especially for the colored peppers. He explained that because of the lack of green peppers and the good market for that product during most of January, a lot of growers were harvesting their colored peppers while they were still green to capitalize on the high prices. Consequently, the volume of the reds, yellows and oranges will probably lag behind a bit once volume picks up.

Cook said strawberries were one item that seemed to be taking advantage of the good weather to produce good numbers and a good market. January is always an iffy month for California producers as cold weather and rain can often impact the new crop. But the aforementioned warm weather was producing some beautiful berries with a market in the $18 to $20 range.

Baja California, San Diego, Orange County and Oxnard are the points of origin for West Coast berries this early in the season and all four areas were experiencing good weather and good supplies. "I expect the market to stay in this range through Valentine's Day," said Cook.

That holiday always creates a good pull for berries, especially stem berries which can return a very good price for shippers. "After Valentine's Day, volume should pick up and we will probably see the price start to come down," said Cook.

Decreased supplies of Florida strawberries also were having an impact. Cook said supplies from Florida appeared to be lighter than usual at this time of year.

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