Romaine matures on a Salinas, Calif., field Oct. 29 as the lettuce deal there enters its final weeks. Prices for romaine and iceberg have climbed in advance of the transition to desert growing regions.
Romaine matures on a Salinas, Calif., field Oct. 29 as the lettuce deal there enters its final weeks. Prices for romaine and iceberg have climbed in advance of the transition to desert growing regions.

(UPDATED COVERAGE Oct. 30) Lettuce prices rose sharply in the last 10 days of October as Salinas, Calif., grower-shippers battled weather-related shortages of iceberg and romaine with their transitions to desert growing regions still a few weeks away.

For iceberg, 24-count film lined cartons shot up from $13.45 to $15.56 on Oct. 20 to $21 to $22.25 on Oct. 27, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Romaine 24-count cartons went from $14.65 to $16.64 to $18.35 to $20.56, and hearts were also higher.

Some light harvesting has begun in Yuma, Ariz., but isn’t expected to be fully underway until around Nov. 16.

“The romaine market is tight and it’s going to get tighter,” Mark Adamek, general manager for romaine and mixed leaf production at Tanimura & Antle, said Oct. 28. “Everybody’s got questionable quality and questionable numbers. Perfect coastal weather moving in might make it a little better, but it’s in the cards to stay this way until past the Thanksgiving pull, maybe even past the holiday itself.”

Tanimura & Antle, he said, anticipates reduced but adequate volume for its buyers because the company maintains a transitional deal in Huron, Calif. Many grower-shippers have dropped Huron in recent years, for various reasons.

Ocean Mist Farms also holds onto Huron, where it moved Oct. 24 after finishing Salinas five days early. The grower-shipper will go through Nov. 18 there before switching to Yuma.

“Lettuce is very good quality for a Huron fall,” Art Barrientos, Ocean Mist vice president for harvesting, said Oct. 30.

Warmer than usual October nights are the culprit on romaine, said Michael Boggiatto, president of Boggiatto Produce Inc., Salinas, Calif.

“Normally it cools off, but it’s been mostly warm at night so the plants just keep growing,” Boggiatto said. “You get quality issues, a lot of seeders. And the plants mature so much quicker than scheduled that you can’t keep up with the harvesting. You end up disking some fields and the next thing you know you’re running into shortages.

“We’re hitting the wall now,” he said Oct. 29. “The markets were good all summer for romaine, slightly higher than normal. But since last week they really started jumping.”

Boggiatto Produce expects to start its Brawley, Calif., deal the week of Thanksgiving.

Volumes from the state’s Imperial and Coachella valleys, and from Arizona, will need to hit a stride before prices back down. But Arizona has weather issues of its own.

“Industry-wide we will see lighter than normal volume,” Barrientos said. “Our volumes are going to be off 15% to 20% all the way through November.

“Most of the Yuma acreage has been impacted by continued warm temperatures,” he said. “And they had two or three desert monsoon rain events. Those impacted plantings in their path.”

Although iceberg is not Adamek’s specialty, he’s viewed some fields in Yuma. “It’s going to be a challenge for processors to get the weight out of the fields that they need,” he said.