Davidi Compton (left), managing director of pepper production for Prime Time International, and Adrian Miramontes, assistant supervisor, in early April show off peppers in a company greenhouse near Oasis, Calif.
Davidi Compton (left), managing director of pepper production for Prime Time International, and Adrian Miramontes, assistant supervisor, in early April show off peppers in a company greenhouse near Oasis, Calif.

The spring crop of desert vegetables is off to a fast start this year, according to growers and shippers in the region.

“We started last week in our vegetable category,” said Franz De Klotz, vice president of marketing for Richard Bagdasarian Inc., a Mecca, Calif.-based grower-shipper of eggplant, green beans, watermelon and peppers.

Conditions have been ideal, De Klotz said.

“We’ve experienced fantastic weather that has led to a fantastic crop in our growing season,” he said.

Peter Rabbit Farms in Coachella, Calif., also has gotten off to an early start, said John Burton, general manager for sales and cooler.

“We have four commodities, five different items we pack from typically the last part of May through the early part of July, but this year we started three weeks early on green bell peppers than we normally would start, due particularly to the warmer weather,” he said.

Peter Rabbit Farms was into its second full week of green bell peppers by the middle of April and began to hit its full stride after Easter, Burton said.

Red peppers were expected to get underway earlier than normal, too, Burton said.

“We’re going to be early on red peppers but not as early as we were on greens,” he said.

Normally, the red pepper deal would get started around the middle of May, but that schedule moved up by about a week this year, Burton said.

“Eggplants, the same thing, yellow peppers, the same thing — the first week of May,” he said.

Eggplant was running a week to 10 days earlier than normal and was heading for a May 7 start, Burton said.

“It’s one of those commodities that’s more for a local grown commodity,” he said.

Demand for eggplant usually exceeds supply during that window, so sales are brisk, Burton said.

“It’s one of the mainstays,” he said. “It likes the heat, warm days and warm nights, so it does extremely well in the Coachella Valley.”

Five Crowns Marketing, Brawley, Calif., started its corn shipments in late March in the Imperial and Coachella valleys, said Daren Van Dyke, sales and marketing director.

“The corn crop has got the best early quality we’ve ever had,” he said.

That was due to above-normal temperatures and “pretty much ideal” growing conditions through March and April, Van Dyke said.

“It’s made the crop pretty exceptional from a size standpoint and quality standpoint,” he said.

Corn shipments should continue through Memorial Day, Van Dyke said.

“After that we have a deal in Phoenix,” he said.

Above-normal daytime highs — with seven of the first 20 days in April reaching 95 degrees or above in Coachella — have sped up the corn crop, Van Dyke said.

“It’s been solid above-normal temperatures for about the last four weeks,” he said April 13.

“It’s been that way consistently for so long, it’s made the crop really good.”

Five Crowns expected to start with its cantaloupes at the end of April, Van Dyke said.

“I’ve been here going on 19 years and I cannot ever remember starting in April before,” he said.

Activity was brisk in the green bean crop, said Kirk Pohl, president of Westfresh Distributing in Monterey, Calif.

“We’re packing away,” he said.

He said he had been running close to a normal April 4 to May 15 schedule.

Westfresh also grows and ships yellow, straightneck and a few specialty varieties of squash from mid-March to around July 1, Pohl said.

Prime Time International in Coachella started harvesting green beans and bell peppers in early April, said Mike Aiton, marketing director.

“Things are moving along quickly. The markets have been good and growing conditions overall have been perfect,” he said.

Prime Time expected to start its sweet corn, watermelon, chili peppers, eggplant, red peppers, yellow peppers and miniature peppers by the first week of May, Aiton said.

Everything should be in place for a “banner sales year” that peaks on Memorial Day, Aiton said.

“Our busiest two months of the year are May and June, but we have peppers every month of the year,” he said.