Depending on crop, growers report a good or bad season

08/06/2013 10:55:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

The 2012-13 growing season was difficult for many Florida growers.

Producers from all growing regions report an unusual season full of challenges, including weather and disease perils and worker shortages.

Others, however, report favorable growing conditions.

An odd year on the River

Vicky BoydDan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Groves LLC in Vero Beach, says citrus growers in the Indian River growing region endured a mixed bag.

Some growers experienced a good season whereas others faced challenges.

The determining issue was how the groves responded to weather conditions, he says.

“It was a very odd year,” Richey says. “The fruit set and fruit overall wasn’t one of our best crops ever. We think a very odd weather pattern contributed to a lot of the challenges we had. We had rain when we didn’t need it and didn’t get the rain when we needed it. It was a very different year.”

Richey says he doesn’t anticipate similar weather problems this season and says conditions so far look favorable.

He attributed last season’s record fruit drop to the weather, not citrus greening.

The 2012-13 season’s warmer winter produced a sporadic bloom period instead of a bouquet bloom, Richey says.

Growers adjusted their horticultural programs to the upcoming season’s good but prolonged bloom, he says.

Greening remains the industry’s top challenge, Richey says.

Depressing citrus fruit drop in the interior

The high fruit drop made for a more depressing than challenging year for central and south Florida citrus growers, says Ellis Hunt Jr., president of Hunt Bros. Inc. in Lake Wales.

The grower-shipper packed 93 percent of its fruit in Polk County and 99 percent in its LaBelle and Immokalee groves.

With the fruit drop, Hunt Bros. was concerned it would harvest fewer boxes but felt good about the way the season went, especially in South Florida and Polk County, Hunt says.

“The season wasn’t challenging as much as depressing,” he says. “My cousin kept saying to not look at the ground, but look at the tree and see what we have left. That’s a positive way of looking at something, and he turned out to be correct this season. We had some blocks that looked like they had a box of fruit on every tree on the ground but ultimately, it picked out well.”

On this season’s bloom, Hunt says most of the crop he’s seeing is probably in the second boom with a small percentage expected to bloom in the first bloom.

He says things don’t appear to be as bad as he initially thought and says he expects the upcoming season to be okay.

Strawberry profits weighed down

The 2012-13 season was worse than the previous one for Wish Farms in Plant City, Fla.

Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer, says some strawberry growers experienced a decent season. But many saw a less-than-profitable year, due partly to labor shortages that spilled over into Plant City spring vegetables.

“There were a lot of challenges,” he says. “It wasn’t an across-the-board winner for growers.”

Growing season weather was more favorable than in 2011-12, which brought extreme winter heat, Wishnatzki says.

This year, growers had to run overnight irrigation to protect their berries from freezing temperatures, but it wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle, he says.

An early May hailstorm destroyed 40 percent of Wish Farms’ bell pepper crop, so what could have become a strong season turned into an mediocre season, Wishnatzki says. 

Some heavy rains and wind in early March harmed first plantings of Wish Farms’ pickling cucumbers for the fresh market.

“All in all, it wasn’t such a great growing season on the vegetables side either,” Wishnatzki says.

Blueberry growers avoid challenges

Florida blueberry growers didn’t experience any major headaches.

Bill Braswell, president of the Bartow-based Florida Blueberry Growers Association, characterized the season as an odd one but one that was financially successful for growers.

 Braswell, owner of the Auburndale, Fla.-based Polkdale Farms and Juliana Plantation and farm manager of Bartow-based Clear Springs Packing LLC, says flowering and fruit set arrived early after growers experienced very warm January and February growing conditions.

The cold temperature that struck in March brought more chill hours than December and January combined, he says.

On March 28, freezing temperatures forced growers to run irrigation for frost protection, which Braswell called insane for that early in the spring.

The deal saw minimal bird pressure, and the spotted wing drosophila was in around but not a major threat, Braswell says.

He says he’s not sure why Florida growers were spared when the pest severely damaged Georgia blueberries the previous year.

Most of the state’s blueberry volume peaked about the second week of April, a surprise as growers had been predicting an earlier-than-normal crop. Instead, the crop’s slow ripening brought fruit on all at once and kept production to its typical schedule, Braswell says.

“The biggest drawback for this season was many people didn’t have as big a crop as they would have liked,” he says. “It was a light crop but a very good one.”

Another disastrous season for tomato growers

Florida tomato growers experienced a disastrous season in terms of weather and prices, says Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co. in Homestead.

“It was an up-and-down year,” he says. “In the winter with problems of product coming in from Mexico and renewal of the tomato suspension agreement, the Homestead deal probably had one of its better growing years in quite a while. It was one of the best crops in volume and quality. But out of that four-month window, we had only 10 days of a decent market.”

Though growers experienced a relatively dry winter through May, a late March freeze affected many spring tomato plantings in Immokalee and during the start of the Palmetto, Fla.-Ruskin, Fla. deal, DiMare says.

That aggravated the light yields the central Florida deal typically brings during its spring start, he says.

Tomato Thyme Corp. grape tomatoesTomato Thyme Corp. In early June, torrential rains associated with Tropical Storm Andrea affected the later part of the Palmetto-Ruskin deal, DiMare says.

Those downpours and other storms harmed quality and yield and prompted many growers to abandon product they couldn’t harvest, he says.

In Immokalee and southwest Florida, growers contended with high infections of tomato yellow leaf curl virus.

In the spring, incidences were as high as DiMare has seen in many years, he says.

The disease cut into large parts of the southwest Florida crop’s overall yield and volume during the opening spring window.

It also affected the early part of central Florida’s spring production in certain areas, DiMare says.

Freeze chilled early corn season 

Late spring freezes disrupted production of south Florida’s sweet corn and green beans.

Although growers experienced adequate rains and cold weather didn’t harm production throughout the winter, a March 4 freeze devastated the early part of the Belle Glade corn harvest.

Paul Allen, president of the Maitland-based Florida Sweet Corn Exchange and vice president and co-owner of R.C. Hatton Farms in Pahokee, says the cold only shortened the crop.

“Though we had a late start, we set shipping records in May,” he says. “It was a great year. Though it started off rough, late April and May made up for it.”

In late April and through most of May, shippers each week packed more than 1.5 million crates, a record, Allen says.

Allen attributes record movement to the industry’s packing of Sunshine Sweet-branded premium corn.

Although the freeze destroyed some beans, Allen says they didn’t receive as much exposure to the cold weather and says growers saw strong prices in early and mid-May.

 

WEB EXCLUSIVE:

Read how additional crops fared this season by clicking here.



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