“Based on the volumes out of here in Salinas, and really Santa Maria, too, prices should stay in the $20-22 range for at least the next couple of weeks,” Jeff Crook, a salesman for Salinas, Calif.-based Church Bros. LLC, said July 1.
Salinas-based Coastline Produce also expected strong markets through the week of July 14, said Mark McBride, a salesman.
“We saw it coming, and when it finally took hold it really took off.”
On July 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $21.05-21.65 for film-lined cartons of iceberg 24s from California, up from $8.50-10.35 last year at the same time.
California summer supplies continued to be lower than normal at the beginning of July, McBride said.
“We’ve had a few normal days of weather since the first of the year, but they’ve been few and far between.”
The most recent problem, McBride said, has been unseasonably cool nights.
The high prices were driven largely by late starts to locally-grown deals throughout the U.S., Crook said. Typically, California growers plant less lettuce in mid-summer in anticipation of competition from East Coast, Southerm and Midwestern states.
Local production should pick up later in July, but there’s no guarantee, Crook said.
“It’s hard to predict what will happen in Colorado, Canada, the Northeast, New Jersey and other local deals,” he said. “There should be more but it’s sort of an unknown.”
Meanwhile, mid-summer acreage in the Salinas Valley isn’t enough to keep markets from going up.
“It’s amazing to look around here and see ground that was formerly iceberg lettuce that’s now strawberries, raspberries, romaine.”
Sluggish demand in the winter thanks to nasty weather nationwide likely gave California growers pause when it came to plantings, and summer acreage is lower as a result, McBride said.
Romaine markets have hovered about a dollar or two behind iceberg but are still strong, Crook said.
Leaf lettuce prices, by contrast, were less than half what iceberg and romaine were fetching.
“Leaf has been below $10 for the last couple of weeks, and I don’t see that changing,” Crook said.
Leaf crops haven’t been as affected by adverse growing weather this year, he said.
“It’s a crop that seems easier to grow. It’s able to tolerate weather around the country.”