Summer lettuce harvest shows good quality

07/27/2009 10:46:24 AM
Dawn Withers

SALINAS, Calif. — With spring quality issues largely over, California lettuce growers report strong yields and high quality as production continues into summer.

                                            Photos by Dawn Withers
Crews harvest iceberg lettuce for Church Bros. near Chualar, Calif. The iceberg is sold under the company’s True Leaf Farms and Red Coach labels.

Though mildew and leaf burn continue to cause small problems on romaine and iceberg, higher, less humid temperatures are helping prevent problems from spreading, growers said, and keep yields and harvesting schedules consistent as many growers finish their second plantings of the season.

Production

“Production has been pretty good,” said Salinas-based Bob Gray, chief executive officer of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Oviedo, Fla.

The more consistent weather seen in June and July — cooler mornings with warm and sunny afternoons — helps even out how quickly lettuce matures and reduces irregularities, Gray said.

“It’s been unusual weather,” said Sammy Duda, vice president of Duda Farm Fresh Foods.

Though erratic weather caused some mild quality issues for Coastline Produce, Mark McBride, sales office manager, said quality is high and consistent as the harvesting continues through summer.

“Overall, we’re seeing good production on all of our produce,” McBride said.

Pricing

A worker packs green leaf lettuce for Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif., near the company’s offices. The packed boxes are cooled before being shipped to the company’s foodservice and retail customers. 

The season has also seen prices for lettuce fluctuate since early spring, from high-teens to $7 per carton, depending on the variety.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on July 13 f.o.b.s for film-lined 24s of iceberg sold for $7.45-9.56, with 24s film-wrapped going for $8.45-10.56, and 30s film-wrapped selling for $7-8.

For romaine, the USDA listed prices of $12.35-13.50 for 24s. Romaine hearts in cartons of 12s sold for $16.56-17.50, and romaine hearts in film-lined cartons of 48s sold for $16.45-22.

Green leaf in 24s sold for $6.45-7.56.

Kevin Jordan, director of sales and marketing for Santa Maria-based Adam Bros. Produce Sales Inc., said frost early in the season caused some initial quality problems but summer production is generating high quality with good yields.

“Quality at the beginning the deal was definitely up and down,” Jordan said.

Adam Bros.’s largest commodity is romaine, Jordan said.

Salinas-area growers said that because of optimal growing conditions they are getting up to 1,500 boxes of head lettuce from lots that normally produce around 800 boxes.

Supply and demand

Another aspect of summer production is adjusting acreage to compensate for homegrown produce that ships to East Coast markets and temporarily reduces demand for California-grown lettuce.

Gray said demand for leaf lettuces adjusts up to 20% when homegrown production begins to peak in July though by September. The company adjusts acreage back up when the relatively shorter growing reason for Midwest and East Coast productions ends.

Jordan said the company doesn’t make any acreage change for homegrown production.

Growers said they usually scale lettuce acreage back by less than 10% to compensate for the shift in demand and plan their seasons to accommodate for this yearly change.

“Every year we do it,” said Steve Church, vice president and director of operations for Church Bros. LLC.

Church said it mostly affects the company’s July and August production plans with an adjustment of about 10% in acreage.

Matt Seeley, vice president of marketing for The Nunes Co., said the company also scales back its production during midsummer months and said overall quality is consistent and good as the deal enters its halfway point for the year.

“We’ve had better growing conditions this summer,” Seeley said.



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