IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Growers expect a large Florida crop of bell peppers.

Beset by low prices, Florida grower-shippers hope the new season brings stronger demand and markets.

Freezes in Mexico didn’t do much to boost bell pepper prices, which remained low going into March.

“We have a bumper crop now in south Florida,” said Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce Inc., Loxahatchee.

“It’s large in sizings and volume and high in quality.”

Rayfield said J&J’s production in Palm Beach County, southwest Florida and central Florida is growing well and said a mid-February freeze didn’t damage its product.

Rayfield said Florida’s high production, coupled with Mexico’s protected growing environment, shielded Mexican peppers from the January cold, keeping yields high and prices low.

J&J plans to begin its spring production on April 1.

On March 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported these prices for bell peppers from central and south Florida: 1 1/9-bushel cartons of jumbos and extra larges selling for $8-8.35 with large selling for $7-7.35 and $5-6 for irregular size and fair quality.

In late February, Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said pepper prices are as low as they’ve been all season.

“Prices in the last few weeks have been really depressed,” he said.

“This is partly due to how good the production is in Florida and partly due to having bad weather in the Midwest and Northeast, which is affecting demand.”

Lytch said spring quality looks strong and said buyers should expect high volume.

L&M began its winter harvesting in Immokalee in early February. It expects to begin its spring production in mid-March, a few weeks earlier than usual, Lytch said.

While south and central Florida produce peppers throughout fall and winter, South Florida volume in late January through early March usually declines because lower yields and freeze pressures prompt growers to plant fewer acres.

“Everything has been good,” Calvert Cullen, president of Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., Cheriton, Va., said in late February.

“Quality has been good and volume has been good.”

Markets haven’t been so favorable, however, Cullen said.

He said the February snowstorms slowed demand in the Northeast.

He said the fall deals went well in Georgia and Florida.

Finishing its central Florida fall season, Utopia Packing LLC, a division of Utopia Farms, Myakka City, harvested a lot of peppers in December and January.

Brian Turner, owner, said he expects a fairly standard central Florida spring deal, which he said should begin April 1, as usual.

“We have had exceptional yields and have had good growing conditions with only a few minor cold snaps,” he said in late February.

“It’s not too often that you see a lot of big jumbo pepper this time of the year. I attribute that to all the nice weather we have had.”

Florida finishes its pepper harvesting by early June.