BRAWLEY, Calif. — The elements were not particularly friendly to some California grower-shippers as they planted winter vegetable crops in the desert.
Temperatures soared as the first plantings went in the ground. Then rain — sometimes heavy rain — hit just as later plantings were scheduled. The damage, however, was hit and miss.
“That’s the nature of the rain down in the desert,” said Mark McBride, sales office manager for Salinas-based Coastline. “On one side of the road you have a disaster, and on the other side you have dust under your boots.”
While some growers were hard-hit, Coastline was still determining whether there was damage, McBride said in late October.
“But it now looks as if we’re OK,” he said.
Coastline was scheduled to begin its fall harvest of iceberg lettuce in the Yuma area Nov. 10 with romaine and red leaf, green leaf and butter lettuce to follow Nov. 22.
The company will transition to its California desert acreage in December with harvesting of all of the lettuce varieties scheduled to start about Dec. 10, McBride said.
Coastline will continue to ship California leafy greens until about mid-March, he said, when the company goes back to Yuma for a short season followed by another short season in Huron before returning to the Salinas Valley in mid-spring 2011.
Fresno-based Baloian Farms limits its transitions. Harvesting of romaine, romaine hearts and red leaf, green leaf and butter lettuce started in late October in the Fresno area, said Jeremy Lane, sales manager.
“We kind of prime our winter season by starting out of Fresno,” he said. “It fits very well when other companies are transitioning from Salinas to Yuma.”
Baloian’s desert acreage is near Thermal on the upper edges of the Coachella Valley. Rain caused no problems in the higher elevation fields, Lane said, and harvesting of romaine, romaine hearts, red leaf, green leaf and butter lettuce is expected to begin on schedule at the end of November.
Winter iceberg production for Castroville-based Ocean Mist Farms will be in the Yuma area, said Jeff Percy, vice president of desert production. Picking is scheduled to begin Nov. 18, he said.
California’s Coachella Valley is the company’s base for winter romaine hearts and spinach. Harvesting of those commodities is scheduled to begin about Nov. 23, Percy said.
Lettuce acreage is down slightly this season at Sahara Packing Co. Inc., Brawley, said Bruce Smith, general manager. The company will still harvest more than 1,700 acres of iceberg and romaine, he said, with iceberg accounting for about 1,200 acres.
Overall, the total is down about 300 acres from the 2009 winter deal.
Rain caused only minor problems for Sahara Packing, Smith said.
“We didn’t lose any stands, but a couple of small blocks got hurt,” he said. “The early stuff looks very good.
Whatever rain damage occurred was in later plantings and could result in limited supplies in mid- to late January, Smith said.
Coachella-based Peter Rabbit Farms escaped weather damage, said John Burton, general manager.
“We had no ill effects from the rains, even though there was some localized flooding in some of the cities,” he said.
Spinach, which returned to the Peter Rabbit inventory last fall, is making an encore appearance.
“We used to do it years ago, but got away from it because the demand slipped,” Burton said. “The demand is coming back for loose spinach.”
The company plans to start harvesting spinach and leaf lettuce crops on Nov. 15, he said.
An emerging star is romaine hearts, as the commodity enters its third season on the Peter Rabbit price list.
“We have increased incrementally our acreage every year,” Burton said. “The demand has exceeded what we’ve been able to supply so far, and the commodity grows so well here in the Coachella Valley.”
Romaine hearts at foodservice oriented Boggiatto Produce Inc., Salinas, a company that pioneered romaine hearts in 1992, must now share the spotlight with a relative newcomer, iceberg babies.
“Our iceberg babies have every year continued to grow,” said Michael Boggiatto, president. “Our customers who are using the product are very consistent users.”
Now entering their seventh year in the Boggiatto Produce inventory, iceberg babies are specific varieties that tend to grow small heads, Boggiatto said.
“Then we harvest them slightly earlier than normal just to keep a consistent medium density to the heads,” he said.
Harvesting of the desert grown iceberg babies, romaine hearts and romaine is scheduled to begin the first week in December, Boggiatto said. To make certain there is no supply gap, the company overlaps its Salinas Valley harvest with the transition to the desert, he said, and uses the same approach for the desert to Salinas Valley switch.
Holtville-based Imperial Sales is holding steady this season on its iceberg and romaine acreage, said owner Cliff Smith, who said in late October that he was not yet ready to predict the quality of the crops.
“There are three things that determine the market in the Imperial Valley: weather, weather and weather,” he said.
It was a truism during the planting and growing periods this fall, he said, with extreme high and low temperatures and rain. Imperial Sales still plans to begin harvesting its leafy greens in the final days of November, Smith said.
Returning to the company this season is the Bonanza label, a brand that has been on hiatus for several years. The new label will share billing with the company’s Eclipse label, Smith said.