WIMAUMA, Fla. — Following a variable year, Florida cabbage grower-shippers say they’re looking forward to better production and markets.

Grower-shippers say weather that has sliced East Coast production could improve Florida’s market.

Smaller East Coast early fall production has strengthened prices.

Quoting $10-12 for 50-pound cartons of green cabbage, Jeff Williams, president of Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, called those early season prices highly favorable for early October.

Lower East Coast volume could lift Florida cabbage market

Doug Ohlemeier

A field of newly planted cabbage near Belle Glade, Fla., at Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., the fresh division of Oviedo, Fla.-based A. Duda & Sons Inc., in late September.
After a volatile year last season, Florida cabbage grower-shippers say they’re looking forward to better production and markets.

By mid-October Oct. 19, however, prices fell a little to $9-9.50 for 50-pound cartons of medium green cabbage from New York, with 50-pound sacks of large green cabbage selling for $6-7, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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

Last year, shippers reported receiving $7-8 for 50-pound cartons of medium green cabbage from New York and Pennsylvania in mid-October.

Shorter supply
Typically, many producing areas such as North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania and Canada overlap in early fall and depress prices.

This season, however, because of heavy East Coast rains, much shorter supply has hit the market and kept prices strong. Williams said.

He said the Elizabeth City, N.C., growing area received 11-12 inches of rain in September, which limited production.

“Because markets have been so good in the last 30 days, we are optimistic that we will have a good deal as a lot of guys selling storage cabbage now,” Williams said in mid-October. “That usually reflects a better market coming into Florida.”

After starting its Adel, Ga., production in early November, Hearne typically tries to start its Florida deal by Dec. 10.

Hearne has been planting in Florida every week since mid-September and plans to plant cabbage until mid-January for the 90- to 100-day cycle crop.

Williams said growing conditions posed a bit of a challenge earlier in the season.

“Early product was a little rough because of the heat, as it’s been so warm here,” he said in mid-October. “But it looks like it has made it through. We lost some of the first crop and had to replant. The field temperatures in the production region got over 100 degrees in the bed. The heat just tears them up.”

Williams said he recently visited the fields and said everything looks well, despite the unseasonably warm temperatures.

Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager for Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade, said north Florida growing problems helped south Florida growers.

“Cabbage had a good year in the markets,” he said. “The markets were fair to the farmer. Hopefully, we will have that kind of year again.”

Biederman said prices got as high as $18-19 around St. Patrick’s Day.

Pioneer plans to begin shipments of its Wilson Farm cabbage grown in Homestead Jan. 1.

In north Florida, Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. planned to start its harvesting in Palatka in mid-December.

Adam Lytch, operations manager, called last season disappointing as cold weather kept yields low, causing growers to miss their normal St. Patrick’s Day window.

When production resumed in May and June, an oversupply crashed prices, he said.

“Cabbage is one of those deals where the market can get high and slow demand,” Lytch said. “It’s one of those things where we are always looking to put together promotions and contract pricing to get more volumes.”

South Florida’s cabbage deal usually runs through May while the Palatka deal normally ends in mid-April.

With its own and other growers’ acreage, Hearne grows on around 700 acres during its Florida winter and spring deals.

It expects to ship 400,000 50-pound cartons, similar to last year’s volume, Williams said.