Produce: In the Market

Growers in the United States got a better price for their fruits and vegetables in early 2010 than they did at the same time last year. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, the price index rose by 18% for fruits and nuts and 3.6% for vegetables. Potatoes were one commodity that fell in price—down $1.88 per carton weight. Although the winter weather caused some crops to get off to a slow start this spring, vendors have been able to fill in with tomatoes, bell peppers and squash from Mexico. By late April or early May, Florida production should return to normal volume. “I don’t anticipate much of an impact on summer produce availability,” says Gary Lucier with the Economic Research Service of the USDA. Here is a rundown on the market outlook (as of mid-March) for a selection of top seasonal fruit and vegetable buys.

Artichokes: The crop received just the right amount of rain for peak production and quality, notes Ocean Mist Farms, a major grower. A record harvest is predicted in California with artichokes that boast good amounts of meat on each petal and extra large hearts.

Asparagus: Growing areas in California report normal harvest timing and volume prospects, according to the California Asparagus Commission. The heavy winter rains made up for exceptionally dry weather in November and December and full production began in March.

Avocados: The California avocado season—at its peak from April through September—got off to an early start; moisture from all the rain actually enhanced the size and quality of the fruit. The forecast is for a bumper crop of 470 million pounds. Spring is also a good time to source Mexican avocados; supply is high in May and fat and dry measurements are at their best.

Blueberries: Cultivated (highbush) blueberries are now grown commercially in 38 states, assuring more ample supplies. While it’s still too early to predict the size of the 2010 crop, 2009 production hit a record 450 million pounds, up from 407 million pounds in 2008, reports the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. Increased acreage and consistent supply from around the country will meet seasonal demand through the fall, when blueberries from Chile start arriving.

Corn: Winter crops were decimated by the freeze, but the spring crop of fresh sweet corn from Florida will be strong throughout April and May. After that, production heads north, with more local corn available.

Grapes: During spring and summer, 98 percent of table grapes come from California. The season starts in mid-May, with varieties like Perlette and Sugraone (green), Seedless Flame (red) and Beauty Seedless (blue-black) seasonal picks.

Mangos: Above average rain and winds in mango-growing regions tightened supply until around mid-March, but volume is expected to pick up in April. Red mango varieties should peak in May. Prices have been stable.

Strawberries: Wet fields in late January decreased the early supply of California strawberries, but the remainder of the season looks good. In 2009, 175 million trays of strawberries were shipped—a record year—and 2010 should see similar figures, despite slightly lower acreage. The reason—some of the new varieties have higher yields, says the California Strawberry Commission.

Tomatoes: The winter freeze cut Florida tomato supplies by as much as 60%, according to some estimates, and buyers should expect a significant gap in tomatoes until the end of March with higher prices to match. Supply should bounce back in April and May at the peak of the spring harvest, though it will likely be down slightly from recent years due to decreased acreage, reports the Florida Tomato Committee.