(June 2) TIFTON, Ga. — Georgia grower-shippers said their vegetable crops are hitting record yield levels and the quality is excellent, but weaker demand is keeping markets low, particularly immediately after the Memorial Day weekend.

As most Florida vegetable crops finish by mid-June and Georgia volumes increase, however, growers are optimistic prices should increase.

Shippers expect transportation headaches to continue, with higher fuel costs and fewer trucks available.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Eastern Vegetable and Fruit Report, a daily update on f.o.b.s, reported widespread shortages of trucks, resulting in hampered movement for most commodities, including cantaloupes, cucumbers, cabbage, beans and corn.

BEANS

Shay Kennedy, vice president and co-owner of Georgia Vegetable Co. Inc., Tifton, said prices throughout Georgia’s bean season, which began May 10 and should last until June 24, have been below average, but the market should improve as heavy yields give way to lighter late-season production. Georgia and Florida’s snap bean production jumped 2,600 acres to 23,600 acres from 2003 to 2004.

On June 1, beans from southern Georgia were $6-6.85, with a few as high as $8.85 for bushel crates and cartons; at the same time last year, they were $20-20.85.

CABBAGE

Southern Georgia weather was hot in late May, and more cabbage is on the market in early June, said George Gillespie, vice president of Valley Shore Farms Inc., Moultrie. The southern Georgia deal will finish by mid-June, moving to northeast Georgia, near Dillard, Gillespie said.

June 1 prices for 50-pound cartons of round, green medium and medium-large cabbage in southern Georgia was $4-4.50, compared to $6-7 at the same time last year.

OKRA

Okra prices represent a bright spot for Florida vegetable shippers, said Emilio Mirzakhani, general manager of the Homestead Pole Bean Cooperative, Homestead. The grower cooperative, which shipped 420,000 half-bushel boxes last week, will have a steady supply of okra through the season, shipping between 10,000 and 18,000 boxes a week until the end of November.

Okra, however, doesn’t benefit from holiday interest, and prices aren’t expected to fluctuate around July 4, Mirzakhani said. Instead of an increased demand, the interest in other vegetables on holidays seems to cause a dip in okra purchases, he said.

On June 1, half-bushels were at $8.85, Mirzakhani said, but the season has seen prices at $10.85 and higher.

PEPPERS

Boca Raton, Fla.-based Rosemont Farms has a location in Tifton, and Andrew Schwartz, Rosemont president, said green bell pepper harvest started on May 24, and quickly moved into heavy volumes, Schwartz said.

Southern Georgia green bell peppers on June 1 were $8-9.35 for 1 1/9 bushel crates and cartons and $7-8.35 for crates and cartons of extra large. Jumbo, large and extra large green bell peppers from Florida at that time were $6-7.85, and mediums were $5-6.85. Prices in early June 2003 were as high as $12.85 for jumbos, $10.85 for extra large and $9.85 for large, all from Florida.

SWEET CORN

The post-Memorial Day demand drop should be remedied by higher demand in mid- to late-June demand for the Fourth of July, said Mike Justice, a salesman with Hurley, N.Y.-based corn producer Gill Farms Sales LLC, from his seasonal Bainbridgeoffice.

On June 1, however, prices for cartons of 4-dozen Georgia corn was $4.85 for yellow and bicolor and $6.35 for white.

From southern Florida, wirebound crates of 4-4 ½ dozen were $4.85-5.35 for yellow and $5.85-6.35 for white and bicolor corn.

TOMATOES

The Palmetto, Fla., deal will be done by the week of June 7, with a quick transition to Quincy, Fla., to the north, said Ed Angrisani, sales manager for Taylor and Fulton Inc., Palmetto. Quality and the weather have been excellent, but prices have been low, he said.

“They’re averaging $5, (for 25-pound loose cartons), which is well below the cost of production,” Angrisani said. “It seems like the demand is not there. … We’ve put a lot of people on ad for these next few weeks because they are so cheap. Usually, that picks movement up.”

U.S. grade one mature-green tomatoes from central and southern Florida on June 1 were $6.20-7.20 for 25-pound cartons of sizes 5x6, 6x6 and 6x7.