IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Buyers can expect bell pepper supplies to remain tight and prices to remain high throughout the spring because of a lack of Mexican product and unusually low Florida volumes.

Freezes that struck Florida growing regions destroyed plants and cut Mexican movement.

Prices shot into the $40s in early February.

Pepper prices rise after Mexican freeze causes shortages

Doug Ohlemeier

Jim Monteith, sales manager for Pacific Collier Fresh Co., Immokalee, Fla., in a field of bell peppers in early February.
Lack of Mexican and Florida production should keep pepper supplies low and prices high throughout the spring, shippers say.

Jim Monteith, sales manager for Pacific Collier Fresh Co., said prices had started to decline in late February to $38 for jumbos and extra larges.

“What has happened is the Mexicans have started to cross into Nogales (Ariz.) a bunch of pepper, more than they thought they had coming out of the freeze,” Monteith said in late February. “They’re salvaging whatever they can. Some of the pepper, however, we’re being told is not very good or is having issues, so prices are coming down because of that.”

Monteith said Florida’s volume looks well and remains on schedule for spring production starting March 10-14. Florida spring volume normally starts light and begins increasing through March and brings full promotable volume by early April.

He said growing conditions since the December freezes have been favorable and said he expects harvesting to remain on schedule as long as the fields don’t receive any more hazardous weather.

Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce Inc., Loxahatchee, said retailers should prepare to continue paying higher than normal prices.

He said bell peppers were higher than $30 in mid- and late February and said he didn’t see prices significantly declining in the foreseeable future.

“I don’t see prices coming down to normal until the middle of May or possibly early June when California cranks up,” Rayfield said in late February. “From a production standpoint, we’re having a very normal spring. But prices will be much higher than normal due to a lack of production in the west.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in late February reported these prices for bell peppers from central and south Florida: 1 1/9 bushel cartons of jumbos and extra larges sold for $42.85, large, $40.85, medium, $36.85-38.85 with irregular size fair quality at $35.85.

Last year in late February, the USDA reported 1 1/9 bushel cartons and crates green jumbos and extra larges from south Florida selling for $30.35-30.85 with larges, mediums and irregular sizes and fair quality selling for $26.35-28.85.

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., which has operations in Immokalee, said the December cold has kept peppers in a lull through January and February, and said volume should remain lighter than normal through mid-March.

Lytch said pepper volume was delayed two weeks.

“We will have some continuous production all the way through, but it will be light until we get into the spring plantings,” he said in late February.

Peppers were only beginning to set penny-sized fruit in early to mid-February, Lytch said.

Lytch characterized pepper quality as high.

Last season, south Florida’s deal ran late and bumped into central Florida’s window, which was also delayed by the freezes and made last year a disastrous deal, said Gary Wishnatzki, president of Wishnatzki Farms, Plant City.

“Everything should be in a normal time slot this year for spring crops out of central Florida,” he said in late February. “Acreage should be normal for the spring deal.”

Wishnatzki said he expects central Florida’s pepper deal to begin shipping in early May.