(Jan. 26) Fewer Mexican supplies and ideal growing conditions caused by higher than normal temperatures have produced abundant volume and higher prices for some Florida vegetables.

The favorable weather, however, could cause problems later with the Sunshine State’s spring tomato crop, sellers warn.

Winter volume should remain normal for most Florida vegetables, grower-shippers report.

“The weather has been absolutely perfect,” said Joe Pascarella, sales manager of Goodson Farms Inc., Balm, Fla. “The warmer than normal temperatures have been good for growing.”

Colder temperatures and heavier rains in Mexico’s growing regions have produced lower vegetable volumes crossing at Nogales, Ariz.

“The Mexican situation has really helped boost some of the markets here in Florida,” said Jim Monteith, sales manager for Pacific Collier Fresh Co., Immokalee, Fla. “Business typically loaded out of Nogales is forced to come back to Florida.”

TOMATOES

The favorable growing conditions have brought the state’s tomatoes to maturity faster than normal, said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of Fort Myers, Fla.-based broker Weis-Buy Farms Inc.

Florida experienced heavier-than-normal rains in November and December. The pounding precipitation was followed by abnormally dry conditions in January.

“That has brought the tomatoes on,” Weisinger said. “We could see a skip here sometime in the spring. I’m not sure when, but there could be a shortage at one point.”

The Florida tomato market in late January was reflecting the smaller availability in Mexico.

Weisinger quoted shipper prices of $17.45 for 25-pound cartons of loose mature greens for the extra large 5x6s, $15.45 for the large 6x6s and $13.45 for the medium 6x7s.

That’s higher than last year, when in late January, 25-pound cartons loose mature greens 85% U.S. No. 1 or better from south Florida 5x6 size sold for $13.45, 6x6 size, $11.45-13.45, and 6x7s went for $11.45-13.45, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

BELL PEPPERS

Quality of Florida’s bell peppers remains high, Monteith said.

Florida bell pepper volume remains at seasonally low levels. After the November and December fall vegetable push, pickings decline in January and February before resuming to higher spring volumes in March and April.

The Mexican shortage has helped boost prices, Monteith and other shippers said. Monteith quoted $18 for 1 1/9 bushel cartons of jumbos and extra larges, a $6-7 increase from Jan. 17 to Jan. 22.

SQUASH

The Mexican supply shortage has also boosted squash prices, said Fred Moore, a salesman for Five Bros. Produce Inc., Homestead, Fla.

From south Florida, Moore quoted $26 for 3/4-bushel crates and cartons of small yellow crooknecks and $19 for mediums.

According to the USDA, 1/2- and 5/9-bushel crates and cartons of small zucchinis sold for $18.35-18.85; mediums fetched $16.35-16.85.

Yellow straightnecks sold for $20.35-22.85 for ½-bushel cartons of smalls and $18.35-20.85 for mediums.

Depending on the type and size, squash prices were anywhere from about $8-16 higher than the same time last year.

Shortages in Mexico buoy Florida prices
Jim Monteith, sales manager for Pacific Collier Fresh Co., Immokalee, Fla., shows off some bell peppers in late December. Monteith and other Florida grower-shippers say they expect abundant volumes and high quality bell peppers this winter and spring. Inclement weather in Mexican growing regions has pushed vegetable prices in Florida higher.