(Jan. 7, 2:12 p.m.) Cold weather in California and a late start to Florida’s harvest have pushed celery prices past $20 for 2 and 2 ½ dozen cartons, and they could go even higher, grower-shippers said.

“The market has a lot of strength to it, and it’s conceivable prices could keep moving up,” said Rick Alcocer, senior vice president of vegetable sales for Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., Oviedo, Fla.

Tom Nunes Jr., president of The Nunes Co., Salinas, agreed.

“The market seems to be pretty strong now, and I think it could possibly continue,” he said.

In the last week of December, John Jackson, owner of JJ & Son Marketing Inc., Chualar, Calif., was selling celery for $11.65. A week later, it had passed $20, he said.

On Jan. 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $20.35-22.56 for 2 and 2 ½ dozen cartons of celery from California, up from $9.65-11.56 last year at the same time.

A combination of low supplies and high demand has caused markets to surge, Alcocer said.

In late December and early January, West Coast shippers tend to scale down volumes because of increased shipments from Florida, he said.

This year, cold weather in the Golden State has pushed volumes down more than usual, Alcocer said. In addition, late rains in Florida’s growing season have set that deal back two or three weeks.

Through Jan. 5, about 835 million pounds of celery had been shipped season-to-date in the U.S., down from about 849 million pounds last year at the same time.

While it’s affected all winter vegetables grown in California, the cold has probably put a bigger dent in celery than in other crops, said Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms.

Supplies would likely be tight at least through mid-January, Widerburg said. A Jan. 5 weather forecast predicted cool temperatures for the following ten days, he said.

“It’s hard right now covering orders just for regular customers,” he said.

On the demand side, college football bowl games in January and the Super Bowl Feb. 1 have created robust post-holiday markets for celery in recent years, Alcocer said.

Warm weather in November pushed the deal “way ahead of schedule,” Nunes said. Acres that would normally be harvested in late December were harvested earlier in the month, he said. And the cold weather cut into what available acreage there was to harvest later in the month, he said.

While there should be enough product on both coasts to fill orders, supplies should be tight at least through January, Alcocer said.

Nunes reported good quality but below-average sizing in early January. Demand was particularly strong for 24s and 30s, which are in short supply, he said.