PALMETTO, Fla. — Shippers warn of smaller early fall tomato shipments and possible late November supply gaps on sweet corn for this year’s Florida fall vegetable season.

Dogged by lower-than-normal prices on many items, including green beans, bell pepper, squash and tomatoes, growers hope for higher prices and look forward to a productive fall heading into the holiday season.

Growers call season ideal

Doug Ohlemeier

Joe LoBianco (left), district farm manager for Pero Vegetable Co. LLC, Delray Beach, Fla., and Scott Seddon, brand manager, inspect bell peppers in early October west of Pero’s Palm Beach County operations. Seddon says the early fall growing season has been ideal for the southern vegetables.

The season’s early tomato crop could see up to 40% lighter volume after extreme high temperatures harmed first plantings of north and central Florida tomatoes.

Possible problems

Jon Esformes, chief marketing officer at Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., in mid-October said he doesn’t foresee any Quincy or Palmetto-Ruskin volume after Nov. 20.

“The quality of the tomatoes on the vine look fine,” he said. “They’re just few and far between now.”

South Florida could send fewer crates of sweet corn to the market near Thanksgiving after wet conditions during planting caused some planting skips.

Jason Bedsole, sales manager of eastern vegetables and citrus for Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., the fresh division of Oviedo-based A. Duda & Sons Inc., said the Belle Glade region in general should experience some issues due to lost days of planting after the rains.

Despite the possible lessening of late November volume, Bedsole in mid-October said he expects a favorable crop.

“For us, the crop looks very good,” he said. “It looks like we should have a good and strong start to go through the holiday period with good volumes of corn.”

Hope for better year

Growers hope this year proves to be better than last year’s fall, winter and spring deals that saw low prices on some vegetables.

After a series of January and February freezes damaged plantings, some growers hurriedly replanted.

The rush to replanting pushed everyone back and created an oversupply that depressed prices, growers said.

“I think everyone in Florida would tell you that last spring was one of the worst deals in a long time,” said Dean Wiers, sales manager of Willard, Ohio-based Wiers Farm Inc., which has Florida production through Wiers-Turner Farms LLC. “It was a rough spring for everyone.”

The early fall rains slowed some growers from preparing land and laying plastic.

“The weather has since broken and it has been pretty nice, though we’ve had a lot of heat in the last few days,” Adam Lytch, southeast grower development director for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said in mid-October. “All considering, for the rains we have had, our crops in Immokalee look really good.”

Ideal fall weather

Scott Seddon, brand manager with Pero Vegetable Co. LLC, Delray Beach, said early fall weather has been ideal for the southern vegetables it grows throughout south Florida, including Palm Beach County, Fort Myers and Immokalee, Homestead and the Fort Pierce-Stuart areas.

“It’s textbook conditions now,” he said. “The weather has been our friend this year.”
Because it has diversified much of its production into warmer areas near the East Coast, Seddon said Pero didn’t suffer as much freeze damage that harmed other growers.
Otherwise, growers were expecting high quality harvests.

“We are looking for things to start off well,” said Mike Shier, sales manager for the vegetable department of Six L’s Packing Co. Inc., Immokalee. “Last year, we had a good start to the season. We are looking for the program to be relatively unchanged.”

Low prices

Jim Monteith, sales manager for Immokalee-based Pacific Collier Fresh Co., which grows and ships bell peppers, cucumbers and squash, characterized recent prices as low.

He said it seemed like all vegetables were cheap during the spring. Prices increased a little after the freezes, but didn’t remain high for long, Monteith said.

Monteith, however, remains optimistic for the season.

“The growing season has been favorable, and the weather has been fine,” he said in mid-October. “Thank goodness we haven’t had to deal with tropical storms or hurricanes so far this year.”

By the end of October, central Florida growers had started harvesting items such as bell peppers, cucumbers and squash, while south Florida production was expected to start in early to mid-November.

Though most shippers say they expect to market from similar acreage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports acreage increases for cabbage (29%), corn (11%), and green beans (8%).

Growers reduced tomato and bell pepper plantings by 3% each while cucumber plantings remain unchanged, according to the USDA.

Bell peppers, cucumbers and squash account for nearly half of the state’s fall vegetable acreage, according to the USDA.