Salinas vegetables feel the heat - The Packer

Salinas vegetables feel the heat

05/19/2014 06:23:00 PM
Mike Hornick

Courtesy Church Bros. LLCRomaine lettuce from Church Bros. LLC sits on pallets, ready for shipment. Salinas Valley yields of lettuce and other vegetables felt some effects of a three-day heat wave in May.A three-day heat wave that passed through Salinas, Calif., is expected to hurt yields for lettuce, mixed leaf, broccoli and cauliflower.

Salinas hit 94 degrees May 13, topping a 1976 record for the date according to the National Weather Service. Highs the next two days were 94 and 88. A cooling trend started May 16.

“Unfortunately, we will see heat-related issues in most items for the next few weeks,” said Mark McBride, salesman for Salinas-based Coastline Produce. “All of which will reduce yields and most likely drive markets higher.”

“All of our crops are lighter than average right now,” Jason Lathos, manager of commodities at Church Bros. LLC, said May 19. “Each is different, but they are below budget 10% or more and it’s a direct effect of the heat.”

Cauliflower, which had issues throughout the spring, shipped for $28.35 to $30.55 on film-wrapped white size 12 May 16, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was $19.45 to $20.55 on April 14.

Broccoli 20-pound crown cut went for $14.50 to $15.75 May 16, up $2 or so over last month. Iceberg lettuce film-lined 24s were $15 to $16, up from $10.50 in April. Romaine in 24-count cartons was about $19 to $21, up from $14 to $16 a month before. The latest green leaf prices are essentially identical to romaine.

“We’re already seeing the effects on the market,” Lathos said. “Four of the five major commodities are already at higher prices.”

The sudden return to temperatures nearer normal wasn’t entirely beneficial, said Henry Dill, sales manager for Pacific International Marketing.

“All product, organic and conventional, slowed down,” Dill said. “It went into heat dormancy. When it came out of it Friday, it was 30 degrees cooler. First we got hosed because it was too hot, and then we got hosed because it was too cold. The plants didn’t know which way to go. So we haven’t had a lot of development in the size or weight of lettuce items for the last five or six days.”

Celery, which is still making its way up to Salinas from Oxnard and Santa Maria, was less affected. There were reports of shortened work days, though, in both Oxnard and Salinas.

In parts of Monterey and San Benito counties, temperatures passed 100 degrees. Overnight temperatures were also unusually warm.

Some lettuce heads are expected to have sunburned outer leaves. Fringe burn and internal tip burn produce discolorations. Fringe burn is cosmetic; tip burn can lead to breakdown.

“It’s like growing in a hot house,” McBride said. “Rapid growth, but the plant doesn’t grow strong, resilient tissue.”

“With lettuce you can get some dehydration and lose weight,” Lathos said. “If you’re growing for pounds, your pounds per acre may go down. Then you’ve got to reach and get some more acreage to cover that.”

“Dumping a head in a furrow instead of a box could be a direct result of the cosmetic damage caused by the temperatures,” Lathos said.

“You can’t clean up all this stuff, but a lot of it is still harvestable,” Dill said. “There’s a bit of burn showing up in spinach and cilantro. It doesn’t look like there was a catastrophic loss of any product. It did take the overall quality picture down a notch because our yields are starting to drop.”

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