(Nov. 1) California vegetable and lettuce shippers weren’t reporting much excitement on the f.o.b. front in the waning days of October, but they expect the new crop out of Ventura County, coming in mid-November when retailers focus on Thanksgiving promotions, will perk up prices.

“Markets are pretty weak right now, with (cartons of) 24s around $6.45 and 30s at $5.50,” said David Cook, sales manager at Deardorff-Jackson Co., Oxnard, Calif., on Oct. 25.

Shane Flynn, celery manager for Duda California/Gene Jackson Farms Inc., Salinas, said the company has an early Oxnard celery crop that started with small volumes on Nov. 1, but the shipments won’t pick up until Nov. 14. Duda’s Salinas deal should end Nov. 21.

Later that week, however, on Oct. 28, Flynn noted that prices already were firming up. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had the higher end of the markets on 24s at $7.65 and 30s at $7.50.

In mid-November last year, celery f.o.b.s from the Salinas/Watsonville area were much higher, at $12.10-13.20 for cartons of 1½ dozen, according to the USDA.

Thanksgiving will have an effect on the market, but the wild card after that would be damage to Florida’s crop from Hurricane Wilma.

The extent of the damage wasn’t immediately known. Telephone service at Duda headquarters in Oviedo, Fla., was still out Oct. 28, and Flynn said Duda representatives there were still assessing the damage and updates on the Florida celery crop were not available.

“We have a Florida deal with crops starting in mid-December, and a lot of people have lost lettuce crops, from what we’ve been hearing,” Flynn said. “I’m curious to see how that will affect the Yuma deal.”

Flynn said the early Ventura County celery crop will see a slight increase in acreage, at about 4%.

Celery production will remain in Ventura County until June, and it’s the leading vegetable crop, according to the Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, Santa Paula. Shippers sold almost $123 million in celery in 2004, followed by the $72 million tomato crop.

Russ Widerburg, sales manager at Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, said the company will start its celery harvest there the first or second week of November. Recent light rains haven’t affected the crop, and retailers should find adequate volumes for Thanksgiving promotions, Widerburg said.