Celery supplies continue to be light thanks to a perfect storm of events. “The celery supply chain got light around the holidays and it hasn’t really recovered since,” says Russ Widerburg of Boskovich Farms in Oxnard, Ca.
Widerburg points to a few reasons why supplies are currently tight, beginning with a retreat on plantings this season. “In the past two to three years, the celery market hasn’t been good. So growers planted the minimum amount to cover their programs and not too much extra,” he says.
Further weather complications
And then there’s the weather. Along with more rain, the chillier temperatures in California and Arizona have thrown the growing days off. “A normal growing time would have been 120 days for celery and this year it’s 130 days,” says Widerburg. “Everything is taking a bit longer to grow.”
Add to this a ground disease Fusarium in California’s Ventura County as well as Yuma, Az. that’s also complicating production. “It’s in the growing areas where they have celery right now and it’s been an issue on celery since we started this year,” says Widerburg. “It reduces farmer’s yields. Normally you would get, say 1,500 cartons, to the acre. But because of this, the averages have dropped to 1,200-1,300/acre.”
Meanwhile demand is strong. “Because we’ve got favorable freight rates this year, it’s also a lot more attractive,” says Widerburg.
Price moving up slowly
How it’s reflected on the market is with a slow climb in price since December. “Marketers took the price up slowly to make sure the market was there,” says Widerburg. “So instead of going $10-$20-$30 it was more like $12-$16-$18. It went up in small increments and the market stayed steady and stable all the way up.”
Right now, celery in the past four weeks has been priced at $38-$40 FOB. Last year at this time, it was approximately $12 FOB. “It’s a historical run on pricing on celery in the last couple of months,” says Widerburg. “I’ve been in the industry for almost 30 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like this.”
Looking ahead though, relief may not necessarily be in sight. There’s been no imminent influx of supply and the rains currently being seen in California’s Coast may affect planting for mid to late-spring celery. “They’re not able to work the ground and plant on a normal schedule, so in the late spring, we’ll run into planting gaps,” adds Widerburg.