As higher prices that characterized the freeze-ridden and smaller-volume Florida deals begin settling to lower levels, south Georgia packers were awaiting the start of a season expected to bring normal spring production.

Because of the freeze damage, Florida growers quickly replanted and brought many of their crops to market later than usual.

Georgia growers say they’re not sure how long Florida shipments of Southern vegetables could run into the opening of their deal.

Joey Johnson, president of J&S Produce Inc., Mount Vernon, Ga., said Florida shipments of green beans, for example, may run through the mid-May start of Georgia production.

“Production costs have been going up the last few years, and we have received better prices. But there is a breaking point on everything,” he said. “With Florida coming in late, it could create some problems for us at the beginning of the season.”

Florida’s late crops could overlap Georgia’s deals

Doug Ohlemeier

John Allen Popham (left), salesman with Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable Inc., Moultrie, Ga., and Jon Schwalls, director of operations, display vegetables at their booth during the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure retail and foodservice conference and exposition in Tampa, Fla., on March 6.

Otherwise, J&S’ growers remain on schedule and are enthusiastic about the start of their spring production, Johnson said.

Harry Sheaffer, salesman for Blackwater Produce LLC, Lake Park, Ga., the sales agent for Lake Park-based Coggins Farm and Produce Inc., said cooler-than-normal weather that ran into early spring could make some crops a little later than normal.

“Everything will be a little bit late,” he said in mid-April. “Though it has warmed up recently, things should be on the late side. So far, we haven’t seen any quality issues. Everything looks well.”

Sheaffer said bell pepper prices have remained high, green bean prices have begun to decline, squash prices fell a little but have since picked back up, and cucumber prices that were lower were starting to firm up in late April.

He said items that were higher than normal during Florida’s season of shortfalls should return to normal levels and thus help restart produce movement.

Most Georgia-grown vegetables were expected to start harvesting in early, mid- or late May.

Jon Schwalls, director of operations for Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable Inc., Norman Park, Ga., said most vegetables should start about a week later than normal.

“Growing conditions have been good,” he said in late April. “The crops look well.”

Growers say the season looks to be a strong one.

“There was a lot of product seeded in the ground early on that just sat there for a while,” Steven Johnson, salesman for Lake Park-based South Georgia Produce Inc., said in late April. “But it’s up now, and the weather has been good. It’s almost been too good lately. Everything looks good at the moment. We have gone from wintertime straight to summertime this season.”

Growers of some Georgia-grown fruit, however, such as blueberries, anticipate starting harvesting much later than normal. Watermelon and cantaloupe production should start only a couple of days to a week late, shippers said.

“We should be a week behind on our start but volume should hit about right,” Greg Leger, president of and partner in Cordele, Ga.-based watermelon grower-shipper Leger & Son Inc., said in mid-April. “The weather, however, has been nice lately.”

The state’s blueberries matured several weeks later than normal, and pickings were expected to begin in early May, later than last year’s April 19 start.

“With freezes last year and the year before, this year should be a more normal season, with higher volume,” Keith Mixon, president and chief executive officer of SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla.,  said in late April.

The state’s peach deal, which has been battered by devastating freezes for the past three seasons, is expected to recover to a more typical season.

Buyers should expect large volume at the beginning of peach harvest.

“While 2007 and 2008 were bad years, last year was closer to normal for us,” said Al Pearson Jr., president of and managing partner in Pearson Farm, Fort Valley, Ga. “But this year, we didn’t have any frost loss like we have had. We plan to ship more normal volume.”