HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Though south Florida’s winter squash survived the January freezes better than many other Florida vegetables, prices in late February began escalating to high levels.

Florida squash prices increase

Doug Ohlemeier

Fred Moore, a salesman for Five Bros. Produce Inc., Homestead, Fla., with some zucchini squash in early February.
South Florida’s squash crop sustained damage from the January freezes and buyers saw higher prices.
Squash began to return to production in mid-February and grower-shippers say they expect bigger volumes in early March.

The crop still suffered damages in areas such as Immokalee, which kept February prices high.

Orrin Cope, president of Orrin H. Cope Produce Inc., in mid-February said squash was just starting to return to production.

He said he expected bigger volumes to hit the market by early March.

“We have been totally shut down this year due to the freeze,” Cope said. “It was so cold that very little survived.”

The pickings that Strano Farms — whom Cope sells for — were able to save were the ones they had put under irrigation the night temperatures dipped into the 20s.

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said the freeze destroyed all of L&M’s Immokalee-area production and had no plantings that looked like they were going to return to production.

Lytch said he expects Immokalee to return to squash with its spring crops in mid-March.

During January and February, L&M was pulling a lot of Mexican product from L&M’s Nogales, Ariz., and Weslaco, Texas, operations to supplement its Florida shortages.

Less freeze damage
Lytch said he expected Homestead and parts of the East Coast, which didn’t receive as much damage as other areas, to return to production sooner than the Immokalee area.

In late February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported light supplies and strong demand for south Florida-grown squash.

The reason prices were lower on the green squash is because much of the eastern U.S. relies on Florida for yellow squash during the winter while Mexican growers remain the big producer of green squash and zucchini, grower-shippers said.  

Monteith said he expects prices to remain strong until volume resumes in early and mid-March.

Mexican influence
Monteith said zucchini prices hadn’t risen as high as yellow varieties because of heavy Mexican production.

Though he had originally thought Immokalee-area squash production would resume steady pickings in mid- to late February, Monteith said continuous low temperatures have pushed pickings back to early March.

“We have harvested a little but nothing like we’re accustomed to seeing,” he said in late February. “The cold weather is definitely keeping it back.”

The Immokalee region in mid-February also saw some high winds, Monteith said.

The nights of the Jan. 10-11 freezes, Pacific Collier crews laid straw in the squash beds, which kept ground heat from dissipating into the air and saved some fruit from destruction.

Fred Moore, salesman for Five Bros. Produce Inc., Homestead, said things look favorable for the spring deal.

“We have an excellent crop of squash out in front of us,” he said. “Everything here for spring really looks good and has had good plant growth, which we need. Everything is in a good situation.”

Southern Corporate Packers Inc., Immokalee, suffered moderate damage.

“The plants have come back and we are picking them,” Brian Arrigo, president, said in late February.

While prices for some squash types during late February remained at normal levels, others such as straightneck and crookneck had soared into the $30s and $40s.

Arrigo, who called last fall’s squash market a cheap deal, said Mexico was influencing the market and said he expected yellow prices to fall in late February and in early March.

South Florida’s squash deal in the Immokalee region normally runs through mid- to late May.

Though the cold knocked down squash, Emilio Mirzakhani, general manager of Homestead Pole Bean Cooperative Inc., said crooknecks and zucchini started to come back into production in early February.

He expects full production to resume by early March.