As Salinas Valley, Calif., vegetable harvesting hit full stride in mid-April, it remained unclear how big an impact unusually heavy spring rains will have on supplies of some commodities in the next couple of months.
“We expect production gaps,” said Tim York, president of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative.
“Spring mix is a 30-day crop, and you could see that dip more immediately. Spinach is 45 or 50 days, lettuce 90. But nature has a way of filling out those gaps and compensating.”
The weather delayed plantings of romaine, cauliflower and broccoli scheduled for June harvest, said Samantha Cabaluna, director of communications for San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm.
“But … we will be able to manage harvests to minimize gaps,” she said.
“Baby leaf crops will not be an issue. Overall the rapid return to warm, dry weather is favorable and will let us get back in the fields quickly.”
Compensation may be harder to come by, though, for some growers operating near the Salinas River.
More than 3 inches of rain in one late March week produced a levee breach in Gonzales and old-fashioned flooding near Salinas.
D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California, for one, had about 300 acres affected. Others suffered comparable losses, but there’s been no official estimate yet of the acreage inundated.
“It will have a significant impact on our leaf product,” said Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Salinas-based D’Arrigo Bros.
“Under the (California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement) we have to dry it out over a 60-day waiting period before we can plant. We’re looking at some gaps coming up.”
Sammy Duda, vice president of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Oviedo, Fla., said the flooding incidents may be less telling than slowed planting and harvesting, which were more widespread.
“While there are individuals who were hurt in a significant way, the flooding won’t have much of an overall impact on supplies,” Duda said.
“But if you miss a week or 10 days in the field in March, it’s usually an issue. It’s entirely possible that at the end of May there’ll be a little hole in your program.”
Tanimura & Antle, Salinas, was among the growers who missed field time.
“We had a 10-day period where we got nothing planted,” said Rick Antle, chief executive officer.
“That will impact June. If the prior plants are late coming in, or later plantings come in early, you could see the gap mitigated.”
“A lot of the small fields are beat up pretty bad, so you’ll have less stand and less yield,” Antle said.
“As much as I’m concerned about late planting, there are fields that had just been planted and then got pounded. The soil was sealed to where the seed couldn’t germinate through it.”
Strawberries became Monterey County’s No. 1 cash-value commodity — $756 million — in 2009, according to the county’s last crop report. But lettuce is still the king, if you combine the head and leaf categories. It’s a $1.1 billion industry in the county.
Trailing it among vegetables are broccoli at about $280 million; celery at $172 million; spring mix at $166 million; spinach at $132 million; and cauliflower at $112 million.
Lettuce remains strong despite a dip in acreage over the years. There were 143,000 acres planted in Monterey County in 2009, the last year for which statistics are available, down from 150,246 the year before.
“Iceberg consumption has been relatively flat to slightly negative,” Duda said.
“Because high-density plantings have grown dramatically in the last five or six years, you get great yields so you don’t need as many acres. The volume and yield factors have played into acres either stabilizing or declining on romaine, leaf lettuces and iceberg.”