(Aug. 25) SALINAS, Calif. — Shippers are looking for a bump in iceberg lettuce demand as the new school year starts, and if shipments and the weather maintain the status quo, even a slight increase in demand could bring prices back up, following a dip the week of Aug. 22.

“We’re still in the summer acreage here, but there doesn’t seem to be much demand, and there’s a weaker undertone to the market,” said Dave Robinson, vice president of sales and marketing for Bengard Ranch Inc., Salinas, on Aug. 25.

“It won’t take but a feather’s touch of demand to bring it up,” Robinson said.

On Aug. 23, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported iceberg in Salinas was $8-10.25 for cartons of 24 naked heads, and film-wrapped were $9.50-10.50. Some shippers said they were actually selling naked iceberg as low as $7 and wrapped around $8 at that time, but less than a week previous to that, prices were between $11-13 for lettuce, including up to $12.25 for naked cartons.

In Santa Maria, cartons of naked iceberg were $8.25-9.25 and film-wrapped cartons were $10.35-10.75, according to the USDA. Colorado f.o.b.s were $9.25 for cartons of naked iceberg.

“All indicators say the market should be higher, and in reality it’s closer to $7,” said Frank Pinney, owner of Diamond Produce LLC, Salinas.

Pinney noted growers’ concerns about potential seeders and tip burn as warm temperatures force some early harvesting to stay ahead of the problem.

Ken Adams, sales manager for Growers Express LLC, Salinas, said the company hasn’t seen seeders, but recent humidity has raised concerns about mildew, which results in lower yields.

Quality, however, hasn’t been a factor in recent price fluctuations. In part, Adams chalked that up to the psychology of the lettuce market.

“On Aug. 9, the naked market was at $6.25, and by that Friday (Aug. 13), it was up to $11.25, and I didn’t see any change in the quality or volume,” Adams said. “ … The whole key is the acreage in the ground, but if you look at shipments, there hasn’t been much of a change.”