End of desert lettuce deals could bolster markets

03/26/2014 11:03:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Courtesy Church Bros. LLCWorkers harvest lettuce in Arizona in late March for Salinas, Calif.-based Church Bros. LLC.Lettuce markets should tick up as lighter volumes are expected early in the Huron, Santa Maria and Salinas deals.

Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce began shipping from the Huron region March 24, about a week ahead of schedule, said Mark McBride, salesman. Through the week of March 24, however, the company’s main volume was still coming from Brawley, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., McBride said.

Coastline’s desert deal is expected to wind down 5 to 10 days ahead of schedule. The company is targeting April 14 as its start date in Salinas.

Salinas-based Pacific International Marketing finished its Yuma deals and was beginning harvest in Santa Maria the week of March 24, said Henry Dill, sales manager.

The company expected to start sourcing leaf lettuce from Salinas the week of March 31. Its head lettuce start in Salinas was more up in the air, Dill said.

Pacific International finished its desert deal 16 to 18 days early, began in Santa Maria 10 to 12 days early and should start in Salinas a week early.

The week of March 31 will be an overlap week for Salinas, Calif.-based Church Bros. LLC., with the desert deals winding down and Huron production beginning, said Jason Lathos, commodity manager.

“It’s almost a photo finish, not ahead, not behind,” Lathos said. “We’re exactly where we want to be.”

Prices were lower than shippers would like in late March, but movement was steady, Lathos said.

“We’re moving our normal numbers, maybe a little bit more,” he said.

On March 25, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $5.50-6.55 for carton 24s of iceberg from Arizona, down from $19.48-22.50 last year at the same time.

In late March, abundant volumes were keeping a lid on prices, McBride said.

“There are plenty of supplies — more than the market can bear right now,” he said. “We have another tough week ahead of us, but it could change quickly.”

Weather could play a role in that change, McBride said. Rain was forecast for late the week of March 24 and the following week.

Volumes also could fall during the transition from the desert, McBride said.

“We’re anticipating a bit of a light spot” in the early Huron and Salinas deals, he said.

Santa Maria lettuce was “a little lightweight” at the beginning of the deal, but quality looked very good, Dill said.

“I don’t know if Salinas or Santa Maria can pick up the slack” when the desert deals wind down for good, Dill said.

That shouldn’t be the case for long, though.

“By the third and fourth blocks, in both Santa Maria and Salinas, we should have more uniform production.”

Lathos reported “ideal growing conditions” in both Huron and Salinas.



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