A crew harvests lettuce for Salinas, Calif.-based Church Bros. LLC near Holtville, Calif.
A crew harvests lettuce for Salinas, Calif.-based Church Bros. LLC near Holtville, Calif.

Vegetable volumes out of the California and Arizona deserts are returning to normal after freezes in the first half of December.

“We were down during the cold (period), but we’re back to normal now,” Mark McBride, salesman for Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce, said Dec. 16.

Record lows slowed growth across the board, but broccoli and, in particular, cauliflower were hit the hardest, McBride said. And the timing was far from ideal.

“We hope to get back on track to satisfy the pre-Christmas pull,” he said.

Broccoli and cauliflower markets “shot up” due to the lower volumes and higher holiday demand, McBride said.

On Dec. 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $9-11.45 for cartons of broccoli bunched 14s from California, up from $6.37-7.25 last year at the same time.

Cartons of film-wrapped white cauliflower 12s were $15-17.45, up from $10.95-13.48.

By the week of Dec. 16, Salinas, Calif.-based Church Bros. LLC had moved its desert lettuce production from Yuma to the Holtville region of the Imperial Valley, said Jason Lathos, commodities manager.

“It’s a little warmer, the soil’s a little warmer, and we’ve seen some very nice lettuce — good weight, color, texture and solidity,” Lathos said.

The USDA reported prices of $5.25-6.25 for film-lined cartons of iceberg 24s from California, comparable to last year at the same time.

Despite harvest crews being delayed by frost in fields east of Yuma and close to the city during the cold spell there, Church Bros. did not report significant weekly volume declines.

“We got lucky,” he said.

Iceberg and mixed leaf escaped largely unscathed, but cauliflower, broccoli, spring mix, arugula and other leaf items “suffered a little bit,” Lathos said.

Cauliflower markets reached $20 per box, and strong broccoli markets could get even stronger, Lathos said Dec. 16.

“This week we’ll see lighter broccoli and cauliflower volumes, but lettuce and leaf items are right on schedule.”

Growers may have to wait to know whether desert celery plantings will come off later than their typical early January start because of the December cold, Lathos said.