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US (FL): Warm weather sees cucumber volume improve
It's midway through the Florida cucumber season and volume is picking up considerably, thanks to more consistently warm weather. The early part of the season saw light volume due to cooler winds, which not only slowed down the crop, but also caused some damage. The situation has turned around now, going from a tight supply to being on the verge of abundance.
"The Central Florida season began on April 10 and generally goes through to June 10 before moving northwards into Georgia," said Hank Scott of Long and Scott Farms. "The season started badly when cold winds slowed things down and resulted in a late start. Cucumbers grow well when night time temperatures are above 70 degrees, and this is the first week this year we have actually had that. As a result, product is now coming on quickly and it's starting to bunch up. We are working hard to keep up and ensure we remain ahead. There was a shortage but now supplies have vastly improved. The shortage was exacerbated by an early finish in Mexico and the late start on the East Coast due to the cold."
Transportation a hindrance
The cucumber market is currently good, with prices on the open market above normal. However, suppliers are seeing a shortage of trucks, mainly stemming from the issue with E-Logs, but also because Holiday demand is drawing trucks elsewhere.
"Although the market is good, trucking is an issue with poor availability," Scott noted. "This is partially due to the new requirements, which has resulted in some of the trucking companies to shut down who don't have the means to deal with it. Additionally, Mother's Day is causing freight to shift to moving flowers, which pays a lot more money."
"Prices on the open market are above normal right now," he continued. "Contract pricing is low, however, as the large retailers are trying to force growers to drop their prices. Mexican cucumbers are available for a lower cost, which is impacting on Florida growers. As a result, some have given up on cucumbers and have stopped growing them."
Long & Scott Farms specializes in growing pickling cucumbers. While typically smaller than the average table cucumber, Scott says they essentially have the same flavor as regular sized cucumbers. However, their physical characteristics make them more suitable for pickling.
"The pickling cucumbers are specially bred for this purpose as they have a thinner skin that helps to soak up the brine and juices," he explained. "The length and diameter ratio is also what pickling houses look for when they acquire cucumbers. A three to one ratio is typically seen as ideal for putting into jars. They taste pretty much the same as a regular cucumber, however some consumers say they are gentler on the stomach."
While Long & Scott Farms are proud to remain a hand-harvest grower, Scott acknowledged that machine harvested cucumbers are cutting into their market share, as lower costs become more important than quality. He is unsure how long the company can continue to offer hand-harvested pickling cucumbers.
"We still hand-harvest, which is obviously more costly, but we want to continue that way because the quality is better," Scott shared. "More and more companies are getting into machine-harvested cucumbers, which is appealing to the pickling houses who are looking at lower costs, but can damage the cucumbers, presenting a lower quality product. Hand-harvested cucumbers are becoming a niche, high end item. We're not sure how much longer we can continue. In the last two years, we have already halved the acreage devoted to pickling cucumbers and we might have to eventually replace them altogether with something more profitable."
For more information:
Long & Scott Farms
Tel: +1 (352) 383-6900
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