Early Start for California Desert Vegetables

Volumes of red bell peppers expected to pick up as Thanksgiving nears California-Lettuce-Field

Author: Mike Hornick, The Packer

Green bean prices were high and U.S.-grown red bell peppers are scarce as the California winter desert vegetable deal gears up.


Those volumes could pick up as Thanksgiving nears, and grower-shippers in the state’s Coachella and Imperial valleys expect ample supplies generally on mixed vegetables and leafy greens.


Cauliflower markets may strengthen as growing conditions suggest the volatility of that crop over the past year could return.


Bushel and 1-1/9 bushel cartons of round green beans shipped for about $39 from Coachella, Calif., on Nov. 3, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Last year’s price was $25.


“The green beans market looks like it’s going to be active for a while,” said Richard Cowden, sales and marketing at Fresno, Calif.-based Baloian Farms. “Some of the growing districts in the east that were affected by Hurricane Matthew may have contributed to it.”


“We’re in the middle of green bean harvest, which we try to target for Thanksgiving,” Mike Aiton, director of marketing for Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International, said Nov. 2. “We will have good volume through the month of November.”


Green bell pepper production in the California desert was already well underway as November began, but red bells were just kicking off.


“Prices are really good on reds,” John Burton, general manager for sales and cooler at Peter Rabbit Farms, said Nov. 1. “Market demand exceeds supply. It’s just the opposite on greens.”


Red bells were not listed among shipping prices from U.S. regions reported Nov. 2 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But Mexico greenhouse product crossing at Texas shipped for just $7.95-8.95 in 11-pound cartons, sizes jumbo and extra large.


Coastline Family Farms expected to start mixed vegetables in Brawley, Calif., around Nov. 21 and head lettuce there about Dec. 5.


Coastline focuses on Imperial Valley for the winter but has some early overlap with Yuma, Ariz.


Pacific International Marketing plans to start conventional spinach about Nov. 18 in Brawley and El Centro, Calif., and organic lettuce and conventional broccoli close to Thanksgiving.


With fewer U.S. regions supplying vegetables in the fall and winter, buyers have fewer choices and a bigger freight bill than they might have before. Celery hearts that shipped for $13.45-15.56 out of Salinas on Aug. 3, were up to $18.45-20.45 on Nov. 3.


Ocean Mist Farms anticipates good volume for its desert artichoke deal that starts in late November and runs until about March 10.


The Castroville, Calif.-based shipper, which grows more than 30 vegetables in the region, has doubled its brussels sprouts acreage and will for the first time offer Coachella-grown head lettuce to supplement Yuma production, said Jeff Percy, vice president of production for the southern desert region.


Ocean Mist will start romaine hearts around Nov. 16 with other leafy greens plus broccoli to follow Nov. 20.


“The plants look good, but I predict cauliflower will be about a week late, probably Nov. 25,” Percy said.


“The desert is a bit of a challenge,” said Henry Dill, sales manager for Pacific International Marketing. “The front end of the desert is coming on a little sooner than originally anticipated. Usually when that happens, your yields aren’t quite as good because some of the plants have grown fast. Sometimes you have seeder problems. You run into yields on your first couple fields that may not be as good.”


“If that’s the case, sometimes just 15% or 20% less in the pipeline can change the market,” Dill said.

Full article shared from The Packer website.