WIMAUMA, Fla. — Increased Florida acreage characterizes this fall’s cabbage deal.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida growers boosted the crop by 500 acres.

The state’s growers increased their fall planted acreage to 1,700 acres from 1,200 acres in 2008-09 and 1,140 acres in 2007-08, the USDA reported.

Jeff Williams, president of Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, said the acreage increases likely came from new growers in the Gainesville area, which he said saw an increase of about 300 acres.

While Florida acreage has increased, Georgia growers — who planned to start harvesting in early November — decreased acreage, Williams said.

In Florida, Hearne has 500 of its own acres and sells for other growers in Bunnell and the Lake Okeechobee area.

A warmer than normal fall should push the start of harvest a few days earlier than normal, Williams said.

Warm growing season

Central Florida growers normally begin pickings during the second or third week of December after Georgia ends its production in early to mid-December.

“It has been so warm down here, the crops are really kind of jumping,” Williams said in mid-October.

During the summer and into early fall, Williams said the cabbage deal has been decent.

In mid-October, Williams quoted $7-8 for 50-pound cartons of medium green cabbage from New York and Pennsylvania, where Hearne was picking in early and mid-October.

The USDA in late October reported mostly $7 for 50-pound cartons of medium green cabbage from New York, with 50-pound sacks of large green cabbage selling for $3.50-3.75.

That was a little higher than earlier in the month when the USDA reported $7-8 and $2.50-3 for the respective packs from New York.

This fall’s prices are similar to last fall in mid-October when the USDA reported $7-8 for 50-pound cartons of medium green cabbage from New York, with 50-pound sacks of large green cabbage selling for $2.50-3.

South Florida production

Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., the fresh division of Oviedo-based A. Duda & Sons Inc., plans to begin its south Florida shipments in late December and in early January, said Jason Bedsole, sales manager of eastern vegetables and citrus.

Bedsole said central Florida’s deal generally doesn’t affect south Florida prices.

“The market has been constant and good,” he said in mid-October. “We have had phenomenal yields this past summer in Michigan.”

Duda had started planting in its Belle Glade operation in mid-October.

Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade, expects to start harvesting its winter cabbage around Jan. 1.

“The cabbage growers had a good year last year,” said Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager. “It wasn’t a great market, but cabbage prices maintained at an acceptable level.”

The co-op’s cabbage is marketed under its Wilson label, named for Darrell Wilson, its principal cabbage grower.

Pioneer plans to pack Wilson’s cabbage through April 1.

When Georgia production kicks in, the market often drops a little because of many growers having product while cabbage remains in fewer hands when Florida’s deal starts, he said.

While Florida prices can vary, Williams said it usually remains a $7-8 deal during the fall.

Because of all the costs involved in harvesting and cooling cabbage, Williams said growers need to receive at least $7.

While volume runs through the fall, Hearne said the company ramps up promotable volume in late January through the first couple of weeks of March to meet heavy St. Patrick’s Day demand.

Florida shipments normally run through early May.