Bell peppers are one of the leading crops grown in the California desert, and grower-shippers anticipate a strong crop this spring.

Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif., started its green bell peppers the third week of April and should kick off its miniature sweet peppers and red and yellow bell peppers by mid-May, said Mike Aiton, director of marketing.

Thanks to good growing conditions, Aiton expected a “nice size crop” from good, healthy plants.

The more the company can harvest before Memorial Day, May 27, the more sales weeks the company will have for its spring crop, he said.

“All in all, we’re quite enthused about the upcoming year,” Aiton said.

Prime Time will transition its pepper program to Bakersfield toward the end of June.

Most of the company’s bell peppers are field grown, he said, but Prime Time has two greenhouses encompassing a total of 80 acres growing blocky bell peppers. The company also has greenhouses in Mexico.

Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World International LLC will start its Coachella Valley program in mid-May, said Gene Coughlin, sales representative for domestic peppers.

The company will ship mostly elongated red bell peppers under the La Rouge Royale label through June.

Volume should be similar to last year, and quality was looking good in late April.

“We haven’t had any weather issues to speak of,” he said.

Sun World will transition to the San Joaquin Valley when the Coachella Valley deal is over.

A good growing season should manifest itself in the form of good quality bell peppers during the entire Coachella Valley season, said Franz De Klotz, managing partner of Pasha Marketing LLC, Mecca, Calif., a division of Richard Bagdasarian.

The company started picking green bell peppers April 15 and eggplant April 22. Eggplant should be available until early July.

This will mark the second year Pasha Marketing has extended its pepper season, shipping out of the Coachella Valley from April to June, and then sourcing through Edison, Calif.-based Johnston Farms in June and July.

Red and yellow bell peppers should be available starting the first week of May. They, too, will transition to the Bakersfield area in June and continue through July.

A mild winter should result in a good spring crop, De Klotz said.

Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, has a green desert bell pepper variety that produces predominantly large, extra-large and jumbo peppers, said John Burton, general manager, sales and cooler.

Picking started in mid-April for the greens, and the company also should be picking red and yellow peppers by May 6.

“The key to the desert deal is planting the right varieties at the right time of the year,” Burton said. “The word from our farming management team is this is one of the best crops we’ve ever had out there.”

The weather this season has been exceptional, Burton said.

In the Imperial Valley to the south, Jon Vessey, owner and president of Vessey & Co. Inc., Holtville, Calif., said he planned to start picking some bell peppers in late April.

“The bell pepper crop has been hurt a little bit,” he said.

The region endured some heavy winds the week of April 8, he said, and could see a loss as high as 20% of the crop.

“They just break off with these heavy winds,” he said.

It was too early to tell in mid-April what effect the winds will have on size and quality of the peppers, he said.

Uesugi Farms Inc., Gilroy, Calif., markets Vessey’s peppers.

Although green bell peppers have been long been the most popular variety, Burton said consumers who like the red ones seem to have more passion for peppers, and the red have made major inroads and appear to be just as popular, if not more so, than green peppers.

The elongated, field-grown red peppers in particular have attracted a strong following, he said, since they mix well with salads, can add zest to fajitas or be eaten fresh.

At Prime Time International, Aiton said red peppers are the most popular, followed by green, then yellow and orange.