(Feb. 18) Shippers expect production of Florida sweet corn to continue at normal levels, barring any late season frosts.

Meanwhile, snowstorms and severe cold in the Northeast could curtail movement in major markets, they say.

“They’re crippled up there right now, which will affect our business, no doubt about it,” said Dan Mathis, Florida vegetable sales manager for A. Duda & Sons Inc., Oviedo. He cited New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore among the markets hurt by the cold.

On Feb. 17, cartons of 4 to 4½ dozen were fetching $10 f.o.b.s for white, yellow and bicolor, shippers said. Thanks to cold weather that had slowed growth of plants in January, prices were at $18 just a week before, shippers said.

“We’re hoping the corn will move,” said Mike Justice, salesman for Homestead Pole Bean Cooperative Inc., Homestead, Fla., emphasizing the need for better consumer weather both in the Northeast and Midwest. “People aren’t out doing much shopping in this weather.”

Markets should stay in the $10 range, “if we can get a break in the weather and a little demand,” he said.

Several weeks before, roughly from Jan. 20 through Feb. 10, markets had seen higher levels, topping out at the $18 mark, said Brent Bergmann, salesman for Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee, Fla.

Justice cited January frosts behind the high market, as well as cool weather that stretched growing time on crops. Weather since then had put the production back on track.

Bergmann didn’t expect any big market fluctuations in the weeks ahead.

Sweet corn in Homestead has had good quality, he said. Though there were isolated cases of frost earlier this winter, it didn’t affect the company’s entire crop.

The spring crop in Belle Glade, Fla., which begins production in mid-March, looked good, he said. Homestead usually ships through the end of March, sometimes into early April, he said.

Mathis, based in Belle Glade, said the spring crop was planted late enough that it got by the January frost. He expected regular supplies from Florida through Memorial Day, barring any unforeseen weather ahead.

Demand generally is strong in April, and then the industry is shipping wide open for the Memorial Day holiday, Mathis said.

Bergmann said Florida faces the threat of frosts through March and sometimes into early April.

This season’s $10 markets in mid-February were higher than the same time last year. On Feb. 19, 2002, f.o.b.s for south Florida sweet corn were at $6 for yellow and $8 for white and bicolor, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By March 18, 2002, f.o.b.s for all three had risen to $14.

Justice said that when Florida’s sweet corn hit the $18 mark this season, distributors of Mexican corn quoted at $8-10 and shipped aggressively to Eastern markets. Usually, Mexican sweet corn is focused on Western markets, he said.