Rising prices, quality problems mark Salinas lettuce deal

10/14/2009 11:23:15 AM
Dawn Withers

Lower weights and yields have caused prices to rise sharply and lettuce supplies to fall as Salinas, Calif.-area growers enter their final weeks of the lettuce deal.

Cool weather and fewer daylight hours are slowing lettuce production and causing weights and head sizes to shrink requiring more acres to fill orders for major lettuce processors, growers said. Major rainfall could exacerbate quality problems and delay harvest for some growers.

Sammy Duda, vice president of western vegetable operations for Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Salinas, said supplies are running light and quality issues remain as the company readies to move lettuce production to Huron, Calif., by Oct. 26.

“It’s been a bit of a surprise at the end of the Salinas deal,” Duda said.

Duda said there’s been some scattered decay on the bottom of lettuce heads and though it’s not pervasive it has affected some fields.

The slow down in lettuce production the over past two weeks, Duda said, came after warmer weather sped up the maturity of some fields leading to a crush of supply followed by cooler weather slowing down growth leading to sparse supplies.

Duda Farm Fresh Foods will just move its iceberg production to Huron, with romaine and leaf varieties following to Yuma, Ariz., a few weeks later, Duda said. The company is not scaling back acreages in Huron, Duda said, because the grower the company works with secured enough water for the season.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on Oct 13 f.o.b.s for film-lined 24s of iceberg sold for $15.45-19.50, with 24s film-wrapped going for $16.45-20, and 30s film-wrapped selling for $14-20.

For romaine, the USDA listed prices of $9.50-14.50 for 24s. Romaine hearts in cartons of 12s sold for $12.50-16.35, and romaine hearts in film-lined cartons of 48s sold for $13.50-17.35.

Green leaf in 24s sold for $8.55-12.

Major rain showers Oct. 13 in the Salinas-area didn’t help improve yields or quality this late into the Salinas season, growers said.

Josh Ruiz, director of north lettuce for Tanimura & Antle, said by October Salinas usually sees increased quality issues with shipping lettuce to the East Coast without weather problems. The rain, quality issues and lower weights come at a time when more buyers are returning to Salinas after homegrown lettuce production ends.

“This time of year lettuce in Salinas is not known for having good shipability or good legs for it,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said Tanimura & Antle isn’t seeing widespread quality issues, although weight is a little off. The company also moves production to Huron by late October and moves for the winter to Yuma around Nov. 20, Ruiz said, where it’s now in the middle of its third planting.

“Everything looks good right now,” Ruiz said.

Mark McBride, sales office manager for Coastline Produce, Salinas, the company will get started with Huron iceberg lettuce production around Oct. 26 and lettuce production overall for Huron is down by about 1,000 acres this season.

There are some concerns about the consistency of lettuce supplies as production shifts from Salinas to Huron, McBride said, but no one is anticipating major shortages or prolonged gaps.



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