January brings stronger demand for lettuce

01/23/2008 12:00:00 AM
Andy Nelson

(Jan. 23) Cold weather in late December and early January put a slight dent in the Yuma, Ariz., and Imperial Valley, Calif., lettuce crops, bolstering markets, grower-shippers said.

“We’ve seen real good demand so far this week,” said Steve Davis, iceberg sales manager for Mills Family Farms, Salinas, Calif., on Jan. 22. “The cooler weather has shortened our harvest days and slowed down production.”

Volumes most likely would be down for Mills through the end of January, Davis predicted.

Additional retail interest in promoting product in January also was helping boost demand, said Jesse Gomez, vice president of sales and marketing for Bengard Ranch Inc., Salinas.

“Last week market demand was a little slow, but we’ve seen it start to pick up starting yesterday,” Gomez said Jan. 22. “December was pretty poor. We expect to finish January better.”

With holiday feasting over and people getting down to following through on New Year’s resolutions, demand should be good, said Mark McBride, sales office manager for Coastline Produce, Salinas.

“A lot of people are going to get on the scale and be tempted to eat a salad or two or three,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Jan. 22 prices for iceberg lettuce out the Imperial Valley bringing $7.45-8-65 for cartons of 24s, $7.95-8.95 for film-lined 24s and $8.95-9.95 for film-wrapped 24s.

Romaine lettuce out of the Imperial Valley brought $7.95-8.95 for cartons of 24s, $14.45-16.45 for a dozen three-counts of hearts and $16.45-17.95 for film-lined cartons of 48s.

Sizing also was down, with lighter product because of the weather, Davis said. Some lettuce also suffered blistering and peeling because of frost, he said.

Despite some peeling, overall quality was good, with good color, weight and overall condition, Gomez said.

A frost-free forecast in the second half of January promised improving quality, McBride said.

Mills was harvesting in both Yuma and California’s Imperial Valley in January, Davis said. The company expects to switch production to the Huron, Calif., region in mid-March. That deal should last three or four weeks before Salinas takes over, Davis said.

Bengard expects to finish in Yuma the third week of March, Gomez said. That will be followed by a four-week Huron deal before harvest moves to Salinas in mid- to late April.

Coastline expects to ship from the Imperial Valley through March before switching to Huron, McBride said.



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