Lettuce prices remain high, but growers in desert production regions anticipate modest production increases in the second week of February that could ease them.
For romaine hearts out of California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys, a dozen three-count packages shipped mostly for $35.95 to $37.50 on Feb. 6, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Year-ago prices were about $9 to $11. In Yuma, Ariz., current costs are $37.95 to $39.55.
Film-lined, 24-count cartons of iceberg out of Yuma range from $15 to just under $17; out of Imperial, $16 to $18. Year-ago f.o.b.s in Imperial were about $6.
“The markets have been exceptionally high for an extremely long time,” said Mark McBride, salesman at Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce, on Feb. 6. “When that happens and just a bit more lettuce comes on the marketplace, it can cause a dramatic change on the f.o.b. Plus, we’ve had time for retails to jump up and that has a negative effect on demand.”
“But we’re not out of the woods,” McBride said. “Yields are still being negatively impacted by blister and peel. We had at least five straight weeks of ice and it definitely beats up the crop.”
Coastline Produce, whose lettuce is grown in the Imperial Valley, has seen volumes down 25% to 30% since Jan. 1.
The Nunes Co. grows lettuce in Yuma.
“For ourselves, we’re going to continue to have just moderate, steady supplies for the next couple weeks,” said Doug Classen, sales manager at Nunes, on Feb. 6. “But the industry as a whole appears to have a little bit more and the market is coming off.”
Classen credits improving weather in Arizona for lifting overall supply.
It’s too early to tell, he said, whether the transitions that begin in March to California’s Huron and Salinas districts will be gap-free.
McBride sees uncertainty ahead.
“Although we’ve seen a little bit of an increase in supply, (Coastline) is scheduled to have a pretty light week and it’s still going to be a roller coaster ride through to the end of the desert deal for the majority of volume.”
Lengthy cold periods are bound to have had an effect on germination and growth in California’s Westside and Salinas Valley regions, McBride said.
“Even though those plants may not have been out of the ground, or just out of the ground, it’s going to affect them,” he said.