(Feb. 8) A slight bump in cabbage f.o.b.s in late January came and went as prices settled down to the $5-6 range for a 50-pound carton in early February, but shippers are hopeful March’s St. Patrick’s Day promotions will spur the market to new heights.

Whether that will get the f.o.b.s shippers traditionally seek for the corned beef and cabbage holiday — prices quoted for this article were $6.50-7, $7-8 and $8.45-9.45 (on the West Coast) — remains to be seen.

“What we’ve found in the past, is that typically, the chains want to feature cabbage between 10 and 20 cents a pound, and that’s not going to change, no matter what the growing cost is,” said Randy Massruha, president of Mass Produce Inc., Gurnee, Ill.

PRICES

On Feb. 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 50-pound cartons of 18s-24s at $5 in Texas’ Winter Garden district and in the Rio Grande Valley, and $5.45-6.45 in Oxnard, Calif. In New York, a 50-pound carton of larges were $6.50-7, and mediums from Florida were $6-6.50.

The Chicago-suburb-based distributor sells cabbage from most growing regions, including New York, Texas and Florida.

Massruha said overproduction in late January on medium-sized cabbage — the most-promoted size for St. Patrick’s Day — has brought fresh market cabbage prices to about as low as growers can bear. He doubts whether the market will recover in time for the March 17 holiday.

“It looks like pricewise, it will be a tough St. Patrick’s Day,” he said.

Others didn’t share the same outlook, despite the current market.

“We’re starting to see firm pricing with (retailers) right now, and in the next 10 days, two weeks, we’ll be getting orders to start shipping, because we start shipping around Feb. 8-10,” Steve Cargil, general manager of Cargil Produce Co., Uvalde, Texas, said Feb. 7. “(F.o.b.s) are up from last year, and we hope to see St. Patty’s cabbage around $6.50-7.”

Cargil said cabbage acreage in the lower Rio Grande Valley and Winter Garden areas that was planted for St. Patrick’s Day promotions will be a little ahead of schedule because of the milder winter weather. The Winter Garden crop harvests from early November to June.

JANUARY BOOST

The Oxnard, Calif., crop saw a boost in f.o.b.s in January as Northwest shippers ended their season, said Russ Widerburg, sales manager at Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, but by the second week of February, the area had f.o.b.s back down to $5.45-6.45 per carton.

“Most of the times, the St. Patty’s Day ads will be at $8.45 or $9.45,” Widerburg said. “As they get closer to the holiday, two to three weeks out, if they see there’s going to be better supplies, they’ll adjust the price. Normally, lids start out at $8.45-9.45 for the pull that will start the first week of March and go through St. Patty’s Day.”

Massruha, however, said supplies should be plentiful for the holiday. While the Florida hurricanes upset planting schedules for most vegetables, cabbage is a hardy crop and supplies weren’t affected after the storms.

“Texas looks like they’ve got an excellent crop, and Florida looks like they’ve got an excellent crop for March,” he said.

The USDA’s winter acreage forecast for Texas and Florida calls for increases in both states. According to the forecast, released in January, Florida will have 5,500 acres to harvest from January through March, a 500-acre increase, and Texas will have 8,400 acres to harvest from December through March, an 800-acre increase.