Mike Hornick, staff writer
Mike Hornick, staff writer

Will the Salinas Valley vegetable deal go out with a bang or a whimper?

A bang for sellers, perhaps, and a whimper for buyers. You might be paying more for broccoli and lettuce come November as growers hit the road for parts south.

A tropical flourish opened October on California’s Central Coast as temperatures hit the 90s for a few days. The sunshine left everyone who isn’t chained to a sales desk or a PC with a healthy glow, and lettuce with an unhealthy burn.

Salinas is a Goldilocks place — not too hot and not too cold. Lettuce likes that stability, but hasn’t enjoyed so much of it lately.

“The extremely warm temperatures, both day and night, actually are a shock to all products,” said Mark McBride, salesman for Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Family Farms.

“This occurred to all commodities that have been grown in the past several weeks of odd weather.”

For lettuce that meant tip burn, scalding, interior damage and reduced yields.

On just about all crops, the warmth of this third drought year has growers ahead of harvesting schedules.

“If this trend continues, we as an industry may very well see severe product shortages as we near the end of the central California vegetable season,” McBride said.

“Typical fall weather with heavy localized rainfall and spotty hail has done some damage in the field,” said Katie Cook, marketing coordinator for Church Brothers, which is preparing for its Yuma, Ariz., transition in late November. “Crop appears to be on schedule in the desert so there may be a shortage somewhere with the coastal crop ahead.”

But drought is the bigger issue.

A certain slice of the electorate is inclined to see agriculture as the boy who cried wolf over diminished water allotments and supply.

On the other hand, some California growers may understate their concerns, knowing buyers are listening too and wondering about their own supplies.

Whether we will get the El Niño climate conditions conducive to a wet winter is a confusing question to headline readers who see a long-term forecast one week and a different one the next.

If a long-term outlook changes rapidly, shouldn’t we call it a short-term outlook instead?

On Oct. 9, the National Weather Service predicted a two-in-three chance of a “weak” El Niño.

I’ll keep the umbrella handy, just in case.

mhornick@thepacker.com

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