MARKET REPORT – DEC. 14TH, 2018
A little run down before the holidays!
Apples: We will start moving to Washington apples in the next few weeks as supply from our growers thins down. It’s not that business has been brisk, it was just a low production year for many varieties, which happens every few years. The 2016 harvest was huge, and fruit tending on the large size. The 2017 harvest was equally huge, but vast amounts of smaller fruit. The 2018 harvest was small – thinking is that the trees just decided, unanimously, to take a break this year and produce less fruit. Growers used to thin the young apple crop in June to allow the remaining ones to size up. No longer. Much of the growth in organic apple sales has come from traditional supermarkets expanding their organic listings and focusing on bagged apples, pears, potatoes, carrots etc. to avoid up-front losses from organic being rung through as conventional. Bagged apples use up a lot of 120, 135 and 150 count fruit – sizes with little display attraction, but just hunky-dory in a bag. Orchardists are reticent to over-prune, because a large crop of small apples is still good money – more than it used to be. Long story, this was a low production year. There isn’t a vast amount of apples in CA rooms. Pricing in the US market is low for both organic and conventional not because over over-supply, but low sales. China is retaliating in the pretend trade war it’s having with America and has slapped a 25-40% duty on incoming US fruit. US sales to China of table grapes, cherries, apples and pears are down significantly – in the range of 4 million boxes. The USDA in an unprecedented move has been buying up surplus US fruit production to help shore up prices, which on grapes were down $6 a box on conventional for the past few months. I have no idea what the USDA does with a million dollars’ worth of grapes. I don’t actually want to know in case it’s a bad story.
Avocado: Slight price increases are related to a down-sizing Canadian dollar more than anything else, and additional truck costs. Nothing major.
Blueberries: We’re now into our big blue run with Alberto, Tito and others – our primary vendor since late 2009! Consistently good quality, reasonable prices on this direct deal with farmers in central Chile.
Grapes: Expect any day to be the last day you will see grapes. California has been able to expand production of the very latest producing varieties and world-class storage capabilities to keep the grape deal going longer and longer every year. It used to be late November just a few years ago. With the first Peruvian fruit now flying into L.A. the market will change to fresh harvest fruit, no matter the price so expect California to empty out pretty quickly.
Citrus: Great selection at this point with many specialties out-crowding traditional best-sellers. You know the ones. Navels are now into mainstream varieties with early styles finished – expect fruit to get sweeter and firmer going forward. Mexico is still harvesting Desert Sweet, a Valencia hybrid that is always tangy with high brix. Their main crop Valencia will start Week 3, give or take.
Strawberries: Still a touchy point, growing conditions in all growing regions have been sub-par for some time with late starts and cooler weather affecting Ensenada, San Quentin and Zamora in Mexico, and shite weather in California has impacted Irvine, Oxnard and Santa Maria with sporadic rain from the train of large Pacific weather systems rolling through that area consistently over the past couple of weeks.
Asparagus: Asparagus wants to grow at the first hint of warm weather. Trying to get it to grow in an alternative universe is really tricky, and with nights getting colder and colder in Baja and Caborca, grass does not want to grow. Well, it does, but arrested development, hence the high prices. You may not be aware but during the normal 6 – 8 week harvest season that you can expect from asparagus, to get the right sizes it has to be harvested at least twice, if not three times a day. Yes it grows that fast. Field workers spend all day walking around, packing asparagus in bags as they go, and walking miles and miles every day. When production drops, harvest crews have to walk a long, long way to find the shoots that are the right length. At the end of the harvest cycle, shoots are left growing, which turn into sometimes 4 or 5 feet high “ferns”. Asparagus is left to “fern out.” That’s where the plant gets its food and stores up energy to re-shoot the next year. If over-harvested, there is less fern, and the plant struggles the next year. Hard to walk away from fields when you are getting top dollars, with the awareness that you have to leave that perfect product in the field for the next year. That all make sense?
Celery: Always a troublesome crop this time of year, with coastal plantings done for the season and new plantings in the desert are much later. With a 3 week very abnormal weather system in place in Imperial / Yuma, heat loving celery is not happy at 20C. What is out there is going for top-dollar and will stay that way well into early January. Luckily we increased our volumes with Ecocampos this year so have basically unlimited supply, in both sizes, bulk or sleeved.
Cauliflower: Similar market issues as celery, lettuce etc. Not enough heat units to keep up with demand. Luckily we decided to contract our volumes this year with three different growers over the winter, in 3 different locations, and we’re all good for supply and price.
Lettuce: Yes, and then there’s lettuce. I’m sure I’ve talked about supply and demand 1000 times. Last year was a bit of blood bath for growers on lettuce. Unlike kale or cabbage, lettuce can’t “hang out” in the field – you have a 4 – 8 day period to harvest before it’s too long in the tooth. When markets are weak (over-supply) you have no choice but to cut and pack, no matter the price. So what happened this year? For both organic and conventional packers, they cut their volumes a bit. That wasn’t a committee decision, that was just growers saying something to the effect of “screw it, I’ll put in a few less acres (or blocks or fields next year”). That cuts supply, and increases market pricing. And in one case on the organic front, where we only have a choice of 11 farms we can buy from in California, one of the biggest growers (Heger) said something similar, and I am channeling here, not quoting, “screw it, I’m not going to plant any!” Which has caused a market shortage and uber-high pricing, and cold weather has also slowed growing cycles. This same thing has happened with conventional, where growers have cut back, moved to other products and prices have gone up. These were all individual decisions but have had a dramatic impact.
And then there’s the romaine thing. A few weeks ago, (Nov. 23) when we were in the midst of the romaine warnings, we sent out an info sheet that said: “How does Romaine get contaminated? Two primary reasons. Maybe the grower’s irrigation source water has been affected – maybe they are near a feed lot? Maybe a raccoon drowned in their well?”
The most recent update on the romaine E. coli outbreak is: “Officials said a water reservoir at Adams Brothers Farms in Santa Barbara County, Calif., tested positive for the bacterial strain and the owners are co-operating with U.S. officials.” So I wasn’t far off the mark with my raccoon comment.
Peppers: Regular readers would have read the Culiacan Weather report a couple of weeks ago as I trained my attention to a rare atmospheric river about to cross northern Sinaloa in coastal Northern Mexico. It was such a weird forecast I tracked it for days, and it was spot on….as were my predicted results. Wet shadehouses and cold temperatures took their toll, just enough to punch pepper pricing skyward. Expect quick post- holiday recovery.
Sprouts. There has been a big increase on sprouts this week. Sorry for lack of warning. Check your retails please so your boss doesn’t get mad at you!