Outlook excellent for winter leafy greens - The Packer

Outlook excellent for winter leafy greens

11/11/2011 11:56:00 AM
Don Schrack

It’s transition time in the West for leafy green crops. Late fall harvesting, from Fresno, Calif., to Yuma, Ariz., soon will focus on the California desert, where growing conditions have been near ideal for the coming winter produce, grower-shippers said.

That means no extreme heat, no heavy rains, no hail.

“The weather has been perfect for leafy greens,” said John Burton, general manager of Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, Calif.

Harvesting of Peter Rabbit’s romaine, romaine hearts, spinach and red leaf, green leaf and butter lettuce varieties was scheduled to start by late November, he said.

Overall, the company’s leafy green acreage is up slightly for the winter deal.

Romaine hearts, entering a fourth year of production at Peter Rabbit, continue to be one of the company’s star performers.

“Every year, we’ve been increasing acreage, and every year we find it’s not enough,” Burton said.

A reason for the growing demand, he said, is an apparent change in buying behavior.

“At Peter Rabbit, we’re finding customers are more into the whole product such as a romaine heart versus a bagged salad,” Burton said.

Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline will finish up the fall leafy greens season in Yuma with about a three-week harvest starting Nov. 21, said Mark McBride, office sales manager. The Yuma crops include iceberg, red leaf, green leaf and butter lettuce and romaine.

“We plan to move over to Brawley about Dec. 10 with all of those leafy greens and continue through March,” McBride said.

Coastline plans a stop in Huron in April before returning to Salinas, he said.

Leaf-ez, a lettuce heart cross between butter lettuce and romaine that Coastline launched during the summer, also will move to the California desert, McBride said.

“Sales are going well, and interest is strong,” he said.

The Holtville area of the Imperial Valley got hit by a pair of isolated storm cells — high winds and heavy rain — in early October.

“It poured here in Holtville, but they didn’t get a drop in El Centro and Brawley,” said Cliff Smith, owner of Imperial Sales, Holtville, Calif. “But our crops came through unscathed.”

Until the end of October, temperatures were running about 10 degrees above normal in the Imperial Valley, he said, and then suddenly dropped to about 10 degrees below normal.

“We needed that turn around,” Smith said. “Those warm October temperatures had the crops growing a little too quickly.”

Picking of Imperial’s iceberg lettuce and romaine crops is scheduled to begin shortly after Thanksgiving Day, Smith said.

Baloian Farms is harvesting its late fall crops of romaine, red leaf, green leaf and butter lettuce at the company’s Fresno headquarters, said Jeremy Lane, sales manager.

“We should have a nice smooth transition from Fresno to the desert,” he said.

Baloian’s winter desert crops are near Thermal on the eastern rim of the Coachella Valley.

“We’ll start our desert lettuce varieties and spinach in mid- to-late November,” Lane said. “That sandy soil makes for very clean crops, especially spinach.”

The focus for Baloian’s spinach is 24-count packs, clipped and rooted, he said.

The desert harvest will continue until mid-March, when Baloian transitions back to the Fresno area, Lane said.

Assuming Mother Nature continues her friendly treatment of desert grower-shippers, supplies of California desert lettuce varieties and spinach should be plentiful.

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