Back home, they were greeted by rising prices on lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli.
The winter markets left producers mired in red ink.
“Now we’re putting a few dollars back to the ranch,” said Henry Dill, sales manager for Pacific International Marketing. “It was pretty much a cash outlay for almost four months.”
“It’s good for the growers here to catch up a little because we lost quite a bit in winter,” said Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development for Church Bros. LLC.
Most 24-count romaine cartons shipped f.o.b. for $10.35-11.65 on April 21 out of Salinas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They were just $7.50-9.61 on March 3 in Yuma.
Iceberg film-lined 24s were about $10.50 on April 14, up from $6 on March 3.
Cauliflower prices spiked. Film wrapped white 12s hit $24.25-26.55 on April 21, up from $11.25-12.55 on March 3. On broccoli, 20-pound loose crown cut shipped for $11.35-13.45 on April 14 out of Salinas, up from $8.56-9.61 on March 3 in Arizona.
“Cauliflower is the most affected, that’s going to be really tight,” Van Eeghen said April 15. He expected gaps in various commodities to last for at least a couple more weeks.
“The East Coast homegrown guys are hurting from storms,” he said. “So the East and Midwest will pull more from here, which will drive pricing up as well.”
The warm winter in the West brought an early end to the Yuma deal and put demand pressure on Salinas supplies just as they came online — albeit a week or two sooner than usual.
Harvesting younger crop
Church Bros. was fully operational March 22 at its True Leaf Farms processing plant in San Juan Bautista, as its Yuma site shut down.
“We’re harvesting younger stuff just to stay in supply,” Van Eeghen said.
Salinas has gone from strangely sunny winter days to some oddly cool spring evenings. That is likely to return crops to their normal growth cycle — slowing them — Dill said.
“We’re anticipating lighter than normal supplies of head lettuce through the end of April,” said Mark McBride, a salesman for Coastline Produce. “Cauliflower is temperature sensitive. We’re still getting nighttime temperatures in the mid- to high-40s. For this time of year, we should be up into the 50s.”