SALINAS, Calif. — Cold nights and rainy days in the second week of April left Salinas Valley vegetable grower-shippers wondering whether relief from a winter of oversupply and stagnant pricing was in sight.
It was too early to tell. But the timing was inconvenient — right as lettuce production was about to shift to the valley from the Huron district and southern areas.
“We’re always surprised when it rains in April,” said Michael Boggiatto, president of Salinas-based Boggiatto Produce, Inc. “When it starts raining, we think maybe we’ll get a market out of this. We’re not predicting that. Markets were depressed in the desert deal, but we do hope for a respite.”
Boggiatto Produce was stalled by four mornings of frost delays, he said.
Dave Martinez, director of sales at D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California, also expected initial delays.
“It’s going to be a rough, slow go at the start,” Martinez said April 9, a day before D’Arrigo Bros. finished its lettuce deal in Yuma, Ariz. “We’re going to be at 50% of what was scheduled to come off this week. We’re anticipating some quality issues that will affect yield.”
“I don’t see the front end overproduced at all,” he said. “With Huron winding down, there are good opportunities to raise the market a couple dollars. We’re really optimistic that the market will get off the floor in the next couple weeks.”
Prices on 24-count romaine cartons out of Salinas were mostly $7.69-8.75 on April 12 shortly after Martinez spoke but had risen to $8.50-10.35 by April 17, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s still down from $9.58 to $10.50 the year before. Romaine hearts in 12 three-count packages were mostly $10.85-12.11 on April 17, down from $12.47 to $13.45 a year ago.
“It’s a rocky start to the Salinas deal — not really what I hoped it would be,” Henry Dill, sales manager at Pacific International Marketing, said April 9. “We thought we’d have Salinas going side by side with Santa Maria, but that’s not the case.”
Nevertheless, Dill wasn’t predicting shortfalls.
“We had such perfect winter weather that we didn’t really miss any planting dates,” he said. “I’m not anticipating gaps; we have product in other areas. It’s just a matter of when the deal does start.”
The Salinas deal develops in stages. Coastline Produce and Castroville-based Ocean Mist Farms, for example, started broccoli and cauliflower in the last week of March. “With our relatively mild winter, the quality on broccoli and cauliflower is just phenomenal,” said Mark McBride, sales manager at Salinas-based Coastline Produce.