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California rain results in temporary decrease in supplies

A significant rainstorm quickly swept through Central and Northern California on April 5-7 causing some disruption in harvest; however, no long-term effects are anticipated.

At least that was the view from several sources that weighed in on the situation. The biggest impact was likely revealed by the California Strawberry Commission’s pink sheet dated April 10. The report tracks strawberry shipments on a weekly basis. For the week ended April 7, the report noted that California shipped about 3.9 million trays of fresh strawberries, which was well below the projected total of 5.3 million trays for this week.image003-sant-amaria-field

Rain was the culprit. Production and projections have been running behind previous years because of weather-related issues. Cold and rain have caused delays and some damage for the past couple of months, putting total 2018 numbers significantly behind those realized in either of the past two years. Through April 7, California had sent about 17.5 million trays to market. At a comparable date in 2017, a total of 20.6 million trays had been shipped. In 2016, the early April number was 27.4 million trays. California is just now moving into what is typically about three months of production with weekly volume above 5 million trays, peaking somewhere north of 8 million trays. Even though, shipments during the first week of April were well below projections, it was still far greater than the week before and a harbinger of things to come. With a little bit of warm weather, California should start pumping out strawberry supplies, and observers are anticipating great supplies for Mother’s Day (May 13), one of the top retail days of the year for fresh strawberries.

The weather also curtailed some harvest of vegetable crops along the coast of California, but production from other areas kept the markets relatively in check. Markon Cooperative Inc., the foodservice buying operation based in Salinas, CA, updated its customers on April 5 with this advisory: “Rain began falling in Northern and Central California last night and will continue throughout the day with lingering showers into Saturday morning. Poor field conditions will cause harvesting and loading delays for Salinas row crops in particular over the next few days. Huron, CA, has not received rain as of yet, but is expecting showers by late morning.”

Purchasing Director Joe Ange told The Produce News on April 10, that the rain was very heavy at times, but it had been dry since then and crews were back in the fields. “We saw some challenges with lettuce, romaine and green leaf in the Salinas Valley, but we were able to fill in from others areas, including Yuma, Oxnard, Santa Maria and Huron.”

He said there was some strengthening of the f.o.b. prices on many items, but not a major upward shift. Ange said this is the time of year that demand picks up from the rest of the country as it warms up, and California will follow suit with increased supplies. He added the four Nor’easters that hit the East Coast in short order last month definitely impacted demand, but momentum is starting to shift in the other direction.

Jason Lathos, commodities manager for Church Bros. LLC, based in Salinas, CA, said overall it has been a relatively smooth transition from the desert to the coastal regions of California, but it has presented some challenges, including the rain in early April. “There has been a rollercoaster of weather events with cold, rain and heat and then the pattern repeats itself.”

For example, he said the rain on April 5, 6 and 7 was followed by a one-day heat wave on April 9, with the temperatures reaching the lows 80s for a bit.

He also noted that the transition from one area to the next is really a three week process as production winds up in one area and ramps up in the next. He added that the multiple production areas have allowed shippers to come up with product from one location or another. Although that is a logistics challenge in itself and has led to a wide range in market price.

Lathos said transportation is a very important factor. Trucks are tight and they aren’t always where the supply is. He added both shippers and buyers have had to be more surgical as they align supplies with orders. “Last Thursday, we saw a $1,000 jump in truck rates overnight. If you have 1,000 cartons on the truck, that’s an extra $1 per carton that has to be factored in.”

He indicated truckers are now in a position where they have more leverage and shippers have to constantly make sure they are providing premium service with regard to quick in and out loading times at their docks. Lathos added that both supply and demand should be more predictable moving forward as the spring weather improves all over the country.