Growers and marketers of Kern County vegetables look forward to good quality as deals get set to begin in May.

Kern County potato acreage is expected to be up 270 acres, or 8.3%, and that has Jim Leimkuhler, president of Progressive Produce Corp., Los Angeles, worried.

“I hope the market holds,” he said. “The spring crop could be in for a rough ride.”

A highly profitable 2008 led many growers to plant more potatoes for 2009, which may not turn out to be a wise choice, Leimkuhler said.

“We can’t stand prosperity,” he said. “We have to turn a good market around.”

Russet harvest for growers marketed by Progressive would likely begin around June 1, with volume shipments expected June 15-20, Leimkuhler said.

Lehr Bros., Inc., Edison, Calif., expects to begin shipping white, red and yellow potato varieties the first week of May, said Pete Belluomini, vice president of farming, who was more optimistic about market conditions for Kern growers.

“It’s been decent,” he said of April markets. “The prices on whites have been firm.”

Glenn Handel, general manager of Shafter, Calif.-based C. Handel & Sons, said markets should be “OK” when the company begins shipping spuds around Memorial Day, about a week later than normal.

On April 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $10.50-11 for Idaho russets, down from $11.50-12 last year at the same time.

Handel said yellow acreage would be up and russet and red acreage similar to last year. The yellow boost will help the company better fill mixed orders, Handel said.

Some California desert spud acreage has been taken out of production, helping to keep supply and demand balanced, Belluomini said.

If too many Kern growers enter the market at the same time, however, it could soften markets, he said. But such a slump would likely be short-lived, he said.

Lehr Bros. would likely begin shipping russets about June 10, Belluomini said. The Kern potato deal will likely wind down in mid- to late-July, he predicted.

Handel & Sons expects to ship through July, Handel said.

Very windy weather in April had an effect similar to a frost, causing some plants to shut down, Belluomini said. As a result, yields would likely be average to below-average this season.

Peppers, onions

Kern Ridge Growers LLC, Arvin, Calif., expects to begin harvesting carrots at the tail end of April or in the first half of May, said Andrew Bianchi, sales manager.

Bianchi reported good quality and anticipated continued steady markets as the Kern County deal gets under way. The company plans to pack significantly higher volumes of peeled carrots this year thanks to its new processing facility in Arvin, Bianchi said.

Bakersfield, Calif.-based Thomson International expects to begin harvesting Kern County cabbage in the first or second week of May and onions and bell peppers about June 5, said Jack Thomson, president and chief executive officer.

“Things are a little behind because of cooler weather, but they’re picking up rapidly,” Thomson said April 21. “We expect very good quality. (The crops are) very uniform.”

The short cabbage deal will likely end about the time onions and peppers begin, and onions and peppers will run into August, Thomson predicted.

New for this season, Thomson International has installed a precision-sizing onion packing line, which will increase the quality of product shipped, Thomson said.

Thomson International has increased red, yellow and jalapeno pepper production, Thomson said.

Green bell and onion acreage should be similar  to last year, he said.

Kern Ridge expects to begin harvesting chili peppers the last week of May and bell peppers the first week of June, with good quality and steady demand expected, Bianchi said. The pepper deal will be smaller this year because of water limitations, he said.

Spring cabbage markets have been a “challenge” thus far, Thomson said, but he hopes that the outstanding quality in the company’s fall deal will be fresh in buyers’ minds when Kern product begins shipping.

Thomson said it was too early to predict how strong onion and pepper markets would be in early June.