IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Coming off low early fall prices, the bell pepper market is increasing slightly as Florida grower-shippers start fall pickings.

Higher-than-normal temperatures are also said to accelerate Florida harvesting, growers reported.

Central Florida grower-shippers planned to begin pickings in mid- to late October.

Dean Wiers, sales manager of Willard, Ohio-based Wiers Farm Inc., which has Florida production through Wiers-Turner Farms LLC, Palmetto, characterized the crop as satisfactory.

Hot weather could start Florida peppers early

Doug Ohlemeier

Jim Monteith, sales manager for Pacific Collier Fresh Co., Immokalee, Fla., inspects some bell peppers in late September.
Central and south Florida grower-shippers say a hotter than normal growing season has prompted them to begin pickings a little earlier than normal.
Central Florida began harvesting Oct. 19 while south Florida in the Immokalee area planned to start in early November.

“The crop looks good but it’s a little uneven due to some earlier rains, but the crop is coming back nicely,” he said in mid-October. “We didn’t lose anything completely, but the area stands a little uneven because of the heavy rains.”

Wiers said he didn’t expect the rains to cause any quality problems.

Wiers-Turner began shipments Oct. 19.

Hot growing season

After higher-than-normal October temperatures, south Florida production started a week earlier than normal in late October, said Jim Monteith, sales manager for Pacific Collier Fresh Co.

“Everything has been going very well,” he said in mid-October. “The growing season is moving along down here in Immokalee as planned, but we are seeing some extreme hot temperatures as of late and I look for squash and bell pepper possibly starting a week earlier due to the hot conditions.”

Early fall pepper prices this season were low, and sold for around $8 for jumbos, similar to last spring, Monteith said.

In late October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 1 1/9 bushel cartons of jumbos and extra-larges from south Georgia selling for $16.35-16.85; large, $14.35-14.85; fair quality $12.35-12.85

Those prices are up from earlier in the month when jumbos and extra large sold for $10.35-10.85, with fair quality at $8.35-8.85 and larges selling for $9.35-10.85.

By way of comparison, last season in mid-October, 1 1/9 bushel cartons jumbo from south Georgia sold for $14-14.85; extra-large, $12-12.85; large, $10-12.85; fair quality $10-10.85, according to the USDA.

Market firming

Less fall volume coming from northern growing areas was causing the pepper market to begin firming up, said Greg Cardamone, general manager of eastern vegetables for L&M Cos., Raleigh, N.C., which grows and ships from Moultrie, Ga., and south Florida.

Less quantity helps pick the markets up, he said.

L&M plans to pack its Immokalee pepper through mid-April before working its way back up to central Florida and to south Florida in May.

Mike Shier, sales manager for the vegetable department of Six L’s Packing Co. Inc., Immokalee, said a slow economy, weak demand and high early fall production in northern growing areas have kept prices lower than normal.

“The market has been somewhat depressed for most of the summer,” he said. “We look for the market to firm up a little going into the first week of November.  We are looking for moderate demand with the way the economy is.”

Shier said the Thanksgiving pull usually makes for good demand, but then demand can often fall apart after the holiday push.

Six L’s plans to start its bell pickings on time in early November.

Central Florida volume

Gary Wishnatzki, president of Wishnatzki Farms, Plant City, said the Florida market normally improves when volume shifts from south Georgia to the Sunshine State.

He said he doesn’t expect to see any major bumps in price, however, once Georgia finishes.

“So far, the crop looks very good,” Wishnatzki said in mid-October. “There hasn’t been anything to hurt it. We believe we are in good shape.”

Central Florida production normally runs through Christmas.

Pacific Collier’s Monteith said rainfall has been adequate, and the past drought has eased with rainfall conditions returning to normal for the Immokalee growing region.

Monteith said central Florida and south Florida usually sees an overlap in production.

The two growing regions, he said, experienced a short overlap when production this spring shifted to the Plant City and Palmetto-Ruskin region.

The overlap, which normally depresses prices, wasn’t large, and south Florida was nearly completed with its pepper harvesting as areas to the north got harvesting underway.

According to the USDA, Florida’s pepper acreage planted for fall harvest declined 3% to 7,300 acres compared to 7,500 acres for the fall of 2008.

Harvested acreage during the fall of 2007 was at 7,400 acres.