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Hot celery market expected to last well into June

Today, May 18, shippers throughout California are getting $52-$56 per carton on any size celery that they can ship, and the expectation is that this strong market will continue for at least four more weeks.

Russell Widerburg, sales manager for Boskovich Farms Inc. in Oxnard, CA, said the market has been strong since early April and he sees no chance for change until production from Salinas begins in June.

“We’re pulling 100 percent of our celery from Oxnard and won’t start in Santa Maria until the middle of June,” said Widerburg. “There are no new districts coming on board until Salinas starts, so I don’t see a change coming until then.”

He said there is very little production, the pipeline is empty and demand is very high. “When the market reaches into the $50s, you’d expect demand to back off but it hasn’t.”

Widerburg believes that the Memorial Day weekend pull is partly responsible for the demand remaining high, but he said the market has actually risen slowly over the last couple of months, which would seem to indicate that it has staying power.

“We didn’t just spike all of a sudden, it gradually climbed up the ladder,” he said.

The Boskovich executive credited winter rains that delayed planting and affected yields for creating the demand-exceeds-supply situation.

A bit further north, Shane Flynn of Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. in Salinas, CA, agreed that no change is in sight. Duda is often referred to as the largest celery grower-shipper in the United States, and Flynn confirmed that the company is stretching its supply very thin just to service its core customers.

“We have a proprietary variety that isn’t having seeder problems so we have fairly normal volume right now,” he said. “We are getting calls from other shippers trying to buy celery, but we just don’t have any extra.”

Flynn said May 18 that the $52-$56 price is firm to virtually any market in the United States, from Los Angeles to New York, for any size celery that might be available.

“Whatever you have, you can sell it,” he said.

Duda is expecting to start its Salinas Valley celery harvest on June 12, about a week later than normal. Flynn said the winter rains are again the culprit for the later-than-usual start. Because of the late start date, he estimated that it would be at least four weeks from this May 18 date before the market reacts. And even then, he suspects it will be the typical reduction of demand during the summer that fuels a market drop, as opposed to the supply side of the equation.

Flynn said summer demand is often lighter for California shippers because of locally grown deals elsewhere.

“But the weather situation in Canada and upper Michigan is still less than ideal, so we don’t expect supplies from those regions any time soon,” he said.

That may mean a much stronger market than usual, at least in the early part of the summer.