A combination of unseasonably cold weather and the invasion of a new pest is severely limiting broccoli and cauliflower production, sending prices soaring.

Cold, pest limit broccoli, cauliflower supplies

Courtesy Coastline Produce

Broccoli and cauliflower shipments from the California/Arizona desert are down significantly because of cold weather and the bagrada bug.

The cold snap started just before Thanksgiving and produced six to eight days of fairly hard frost, said Mark McBride, sales office manager for Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce.

“Broccoli is very temperature-sensitive, and the supplies have been very, very slow to come in,” McBride said.

On top of the weather, growers are facing a new enemy this year: the bagrada bug, a relative of the stinkbug that was first found in the California/Arizona desert late in 2009.

Thanks to one of the mildest summers in the desert in recent decades, the bagrada, which attacks cruciferous vegetables, is thriving, McBride said.

“A lot of fields were clobbered,” he said. “Some even had to be replanted.”

“It’s really curtailed volumes, and this is a really busy time of year,” said John Chobanian, broccoli commodity manager for Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms.

McBride could not put a percentage on how much weekly volumes are down because of the weather and bagrada infestation.

About 10.4 million pounds of U.S.-grown broccoli shipped in the week ending Dec. 4, down from 15.4 million pounds last year at the same time, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But it’s enough for Coastline and other shippers to send broccoli and cauliflower prices into the stratosphere.

“Supplies will be really tight for at least the next 10 days,” Chobanian said. “Demand is going to ramp up, and supplies aren’t.”

On Dec. 7, the USDA reported prices of $18.95-20.47 for cartons of broccoli bunched 14s from California, up from $10.25-12.45 last year at the same time.

Cartons of film-wrapped white cauliflower 12s were $32-35, up from $10.35-10.45 last year at the same time.

Supplies will remain very tight at least through the holidays, McBride said. And while he doesn’t know if prices can go any higher, he’s not sure when they’ll come down, either.

“I had my doubts whether they’d stay so high this week, but they have,” he said Dec. 6. “They’re almost setting records now.”

Despite the weather and pest problems, quality and size profile have been good, McBride and Chobanian said.