(May 15, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) The year’s first heat wave is causing sleepless nights for California berry and vegetable grower-shippers, but the weather forecast for coming days is encouraging.

That could be good news for retailers and foodservice operators.

Temperatures were forecast to be in the mid-90s May 15 in Salinas and Watsonville, Calif., but a cooling trend was on the horizon.

“We’re starting from an outstanding point, so the product is as strong as it possibly could be for this time of year,” said Mark McBride, sales office manager for Coastline Produce, Salinas.

Vegetables can usually endure up to three days of hot temperatures before a pronounced effect hits the plants, McBride said.

“If a vegetable is dehydrated, there’s no way to rehydrate it,” he said.

Because grower-shippers stagger their plantings, any slowdown in shipping would be of short duration. Another positive: Younger vegetables will rebound from the heat, McBride said.

Coastline grows a wide variety of vegetables including iceberg and leaf lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower.

“We really won’t know if the heat causes any damage until next week,” said Andy Cumming, president of Metz Fresh LLC, King City, Calif.

SUNBURN

The big issue at Metz Fresh is the potential for sunburn. The company grows spinach and spring mix, which Cumming said doesn’t offer the luxury of trimming. Iceberg lettuce grower-shippers may be able to trim outer, sunburned leaves, he said.

“It’s been so cool this spring that everything’s behind schedule,” Cumming said. “Now it’s going to get zapped with this super-hot weather.”

The picture was brighter for the state’s berry grower-shippers.

“Pretty much as a district, Oxnard is done,” said Don Hobson, vice president of sales and marketing for Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

The Oxnard forecast indicated a high of 92 degrees for May 16, followed by cooler temperatures. Just a couple of grower-shippers were picking the last of the Oxnard district strawberries, Hobson said.

Among them is Dole Berry Co., a division of Dole Fresh Fruit, Westlake Village, Calif.

“We have about another week of picking in Oxnard,” said Dave Ghio, the company’s senior national accounts manager.

POTENTIALLY SMALLER BERRIES

Hot weather forces accelerated coloring and ripening and could mean a larger percentage of smaller berries, he said.

Regardless of the size, the strawberries will still taste great, said David Lawrence, president of Red Blossom Farms Inc., Santa Ynez, Calif. The only downside, he said, is that the heat tends to make the berries softer and more tender.

While daytime temperatures hasten ripening and can cause sunburn, most grower-shippers are more concerned about conditions after the sun sets.

“Nights are the key,” said Mark Yotsuya, a salesman at Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville.

Cool overnight temperatures help the berries withstand the higher afternoon readings, he said.

There were no reports of problems with San Joaquin Valley blueberries.

“They’re in full production and the hot weather could cause some burning,” said Dovie Plain, marketing coordinator for Family Tree Farms, Reedley, Calif., which grows blueberries in the Kettleman Hills area.

The high temperatures could bring the crop on faster, she said, but noted that the variety Family Tree Farms grows was bred to withstand the valley’s hot weather.