(Nov. 29) It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas … and that’s making truck shortages even more pronounced in the Pacific Northwest, where onion, potato and other produce shipments hit-and-miss in a season plagued by higher transportation rates and availability.

The Christmas tree industry places perennial pressures in Washington and Oregon, said Larry Sieg, sales man-ager of Sunfresh Inc., Royal City, Wash., but potato shippers throughout the country have been facing shortages since the start of the fall harvest.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, everything from California lettuce and fruit to North Caro-lina sweet potatoes were facing shortages on Nov. 24.

“I think the biggest problem we’re all facing is this transportation thing, whether it’s Washington, Oregon, Idaho or Wisconsin, we’re all suffering on this transportation deal,” Sieg said.

Sieg said the Thanksgiving business was brisk for potatoes, but the onion market needs “something exciting” to happen. In any case, some shippers can count on a 5-10% increase in business in the weeks leading to Christmas. Any higher demand might have to go unanswered, with a lack of trucks limiting the ability to ship more.

In Idaho, 50-pound cartons of russet burbank 40-70s were $7.50, 80s were $6.50 and 90s were $5.50-6 on Nov. 22. In Colorado’s San Luis Valley, cartons of russet norkotahs were from $5-6 for 40-90s. Northwestern Washing-ton cartons of yukon golds were $12-13 for size As and $7-8 for cartons of Bs.

Washington’s Columbia Basin onion f.o.b.s were $4-4.50 for colossal and $3-3.50 for jumbos for 50-pound sacks on Nov. 22. In Colorado, 50-pound sacks were $8-9 for super colossals and $6-6.50 for colossal yellow onions. Peruvian sweet onions were $13-14 for 40-pound cartons of colossals and jumbos.


Availability of trucks aside, some items will be restricted because of lingering problems from the summer hur-ricanes in Florida and Georgia.

Tomato markets will continue to be elevated, shippers said, despite the increased supply of product from Mexico and southern Florida. Florida volumes should increase the second week of December.

“Immokalee and the Naples area will be coming back in close to normal volumes, with about 10% damage there,” said Stan Scherer, sales manager of Harllee Packing Inc., Palmetto, Fla. “The later the crops were planted down there, the better off they’ll be.”

Tomatoes were $39-41 for 25-pound cartons of loose greens from Florida, depending on size.

The Boston Market Terminal had cartons of 24 12-ounce film bags of fresh cranberries for $23-24 on Nov. 22.

Sweet potatoes from eastern North Carolina were $14-15 for 40-pound cartons of cured potatoes, and Louisiana reported f.o.b.s at $14.50-15.50 per carton.

Drew Barsoom, asparagus, green onion and broccoli manager for Tanimura & Antle Inc., Salinas, Calif., said warm weather in Yuma, Ariz., sped up some crops in late November, leaving more product on the open market to sell.

By Dec. 8, the market should see higher demand with the coming Christmas season, he said.

White asparagus is a year-round product for Washington, D.C.-based Sun Belle Inc., said John Hedges, vice president in the company’s Chicago office, but it should be a popular item to mix-and-match with green Peruvian asparagus, thanks to price parity in late November. Green asparagus on Nov. 23 was $20-22, depending on size.

White or green, asparagus is featured in more holiday promotions, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hedges said, expanding its role as a popular spring holiday item. Supplies for Christmas could be tight however, as doubled transportation rates limit fresh shipments to the U.S.


Citrus, while not a traditional fall fruit like apples or pears, benefits from a nostalgia boost around the holiday, in fruit baskets and as stocking stuffers.

Claire Smith, director of corporate communications for Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., said as California temperatures are dropping — they were in the low 40s on Nov. 23 — navels are taking on more color.

The navel season started two weeks earlier this year, but supplies will be plentiful. The USDA predicted a 21% increase over last year, with 46 million 75-pound cartons.

“We’re expecting a strong retail pull through Christmas,” Smith said. “There will be somewhat of a shortage of different kinds of citrus because of the (hurricane) situation in Florida, but not necessarily navels, so it bodes well for navels.”