IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Buyers should expect strong volumes of cucumbers from Florida during the spring.

South Florida’s cucumber crop normally ends in late December and bows out of production during the winter months when offshore production ships.

Offshore cucumbers prices increase before Florida starts spring volume

Doug Ohlemeier

Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce Inc., Loxahatchee,  Fla., with a pack of cucumbers in early February.  Buyers should expect strong volumes of Florida spring cucumbers.

That gives the first U.S.-producing region a window that starts in mid-March before other Florida growing regions begin volume in mid- to late April and early May.

“There should be plenty of cucumbers for April,” said Gerry Odell, chief operating officer of farming and packing for the Lipman Family Cos., which grows and packs tomatoes and vegetables through Six L’s Packing Co. Inc. and Custom Pak.

Early spring markets
Odell said the cucumber market normally starts out strong and prices often decline quickly.

Shippers who have cucumbers when the Honduran and Mexican deals stop normally experience high markets for a short period of time, he said.

As more Florida growing regions begin production, the added acreage puts a lot of downward pressure on the cucumbers, and prices normally fall during the latter part of April, Odell said.

After freezing weather damages tomatoes, growers looking for an alternative crop to utilize the resources they put into the tomato crop will often plant cucumbers on the stakes above the plastic mulch.

Odell said Six L’s transplanted its cucumbers in mid-January after the freeze.

Spring volume normally begins in mid-March.

The south Florida growers who grow for Southern Corporate Packers Inc. finished spring plantings by Jan. 10.

As the offshore deal plays out while south Florida’s deal begins, prices normally start at fairly high levels until heavy volumes build, said Brian Arrigo, Southern Corporate Packers’ president.

Arrigo said south Florida experienced strong markets last spring until heavy rains inundated the region in mid-May.

The rain caused a lot of disease problems that caused fruit to break down in transit, giving retailers troubles with arrivals, he said.

Prices increase

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said the cucumber market began picking up in mid-February.

He said prices were high in early January, then cooled off.

“The markets (earlier) really jacked up and caused some higher retail prices that slowed movement,” he said.

The system that brought colder-than-normal temperatures to the southeastern U.S. even affected Central America growing regions, where overnight temperatures hit the 40s.

The cold didn’t hurt cucumber plants but slowed production, Lytch said.

In addition, rain in Mexican growing regions slowed volume.

L&M expects to begin its cucumber pickings in mid-March.

Market on fire
Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce Inc., Loxahatchee, called the market during last winter and spring high.

“The market was on fire last year,” he said. “It was an extended high market.”

Rayfield said the Florida growers who tried to plant winter cucumbers to take advantage of that high winter market got hurt by the freeze.

During the transition period between offshore production and Florida’s spring start, Rayfield said the market usually pays a premium because retailers want to feature product being harvested from the new domestic producing regions.

Once production becomes heavy, though, prices normally decline, he said.

Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, Wimauma, began plantings of its pole-grown cucumbers in mid- to late February.

Pickings are scheduled to start in late March.

“Cucumbers were good for us last year,” said Tony Piedimonte, co-owner. “We had good volumes and good quality as well as decent prices.”

 Piedimonte said prices are traditionally strong when Florida begins production.

Hearne plans to end its pickings in the middle of May.

Wishnatzki Farms, Plant City, markets pickling cukes for the fresh market.

Wishnatzki’s grower normally begins production in mid-to late March.

Because of the colder-than-normal January and February temperatures, this season’s central Florida production won’t likely start until early April, said Gary Wishnatzki, president.

“We are not in the same situation as most sales companies that have to sell what comes in,” he said. “We bring in only what we sell and the grower is always picking the new fields for the fresh market.”