WIMAUMA, Fla. — Because of smaller volumes in other growing regions and unfavorable Florida growing conditions, buyers should expect adequate supplies of Florida-grown cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day holiday promotions.

Florida weather and national supplies pushes cabbage prices higher

Doug Ohlemeier

Tony Piedimonte (left), co-owner of Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, Wimauma, Fla., and Jeff Williams, president, examine some central Florida green cabbage in a field near Parrish, Fla. in mid-February.
Because of smaller volumes in other growing regions and unfavorable Florida growing conditions, buyers should expect adequate supplies of Florida-grown cabbage to make for St. Patrick’s Day holiday promotions.

Though south and central Florida’s cabbage escaped major damage from the freezing weather that struck all growing regions in early and mid-January, grower-shippers say cloudy and colder-than-normal weather that has hit growing regions since has challenged plant growth.

The cabbage hasn’t received enough heat units. Instead of receiving seven days worth of heat units to constitute seven days of plant growth, Tony Piedimonte, co-owner of Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, said the plants have received few days of heat.

Add lower volumes from other growing regions such as Texas — where winter production has made for only 70% of a normal crop for St. Patty’s Day shipments.

“As you compound this, it will make that big block of St. Patty’s Day cabbage,” Piedimonte said in mid-February. “You have storage supplies from Canada and in New York that are down due to a weaker harvest in those areas and have had cooler and wetter weather in their growing seasons. This St. Patty’s Day business will be very interesting. There is a lot of immature and lightweight cabbage around.”

Strong prices
While Florida growers generally ship cabbage from December through early May, the biggest push of the year usually begins in early March when shippers begin sending supplies to retail customers for St. Patty’s Day promotions.

Piedimonte called cabbage weight outstanding and described color as beautiful. Those factors should produce highly durable and sweet heads, he said.

Piedimonte said he expects prices to remain strong going into the holiday.

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said national supplies have begun to recover from the cold and are increasing.

The market had been trending down but leading up to the St. Patty’s Day push, he said he expected increased demand to tighten the market as planting should be struggling to make production on time because of extreme cold and heavy early and mid-February rain.

Cabbage growth
Though the freezes didn’t damage Florida’s crop, it nearly stopped pickings.

“They’re just not growing,” Lytch said in mid-February. “The rains have really slowed the growing down again. We should have sufficient supplies, but just not an overabundance of product.”

Lytch said the unusual weather has made for smaller head sizes.

Instead of the normal 16- and 18-count cabbage, he said L&M has been packing some cartons with as high as 30-count cabbage.

Those heads, however, have been small and firm and Lytch said sizing has been improving in mid-February.

The freezing temperatures also ended Georgia’s cabbage deal a couple of weeks earlier than normal, he said.

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., called winter cabbage quality strong.

“We had some issues from the freeze, as cabbage probably got affected a little more than other items, but other than that, the issues have straightened themselves out and the quality and volumes are good,” he said in mid-February.

Bedsole quoted $10 f.o.b.s in mid-February and said prices did immediately increase in a knee-jerk reaction after the freeze.

The freeze didn’t cause significant damage to south Florida cabbage, said Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager for Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade.

“Our Homestead supply is in great shape,” he said in mid-February. “We have good volume and good quality. Overall, however, the industry supply seems to be down significantly because of other regions getting hit pretty hard.”

Biederman said he expects Homestead to finish cabbage pickings in early April.

He said last year was a normal year that saw typical demand. Though there were a couple of times when price fell, Biederman said the co-op’s Wilson brand cabbage —  well known in the industry —  always commands a premium price.