SALINAS, Calif. — April is the month when lettuce returns to the Salinas Valley.

After months of desert production and the gradual transition back to California’s coastal growing regions, lettuce production remains in Salinas until November when the season leaves for warmer growing conditions.

But rain and cool spring weather caused lighter head weights for transitioning lettuce supplies out of Huron, the traditional four-week holdover before leafy green harvesting starts in Salinas in mid-April.

Most grower-shippers finished the last of their lettuce crops in Yuma, Ariz., and other desert areas in late March, moving equipment and field crews to Huron.

Peak production was expected to start by mid-April.

“This isn’t a hobby for us,” said Rick Antle, chief executive officer of Tanimura & Antle, Salinas, which has the bulk of its lettuce crop in transition.

Antle said the move was smooth out of Yuma with the company maintaining consistent supplies with strong quality among early Huron lettuces such as iceberg. Rainy weather during the last week of March isn’t expected to affect the immature Salinas lettuces, Antle said.

Growers said mildew caused some problems in Salinas spinach crops as well as in Huron.

Bruce Knobeloch, who as chief operating officer oversees River Ranch Fresh Food LLC’s sales and marketing, processing, distribution and agricultural operations, said the company’s romaine and other lettuces will transition back to
Salinas in April from Huron for the remainder of the season.

Early lettuces in Huron did have some quality issues, including mildew and leaf burn, but nothing that has caused major supply issues, Knobeloch said.

“We’re not seeing anything different from anyone else who is in Huron,” Knobeloch said.

Leaf lettuce remained the No. 1 crop for 2008 in the Salinas Valley with a production value of $651 million, making it the most valuable commodity grown in the area, according to the Monterey County Crop Report. Acreage in 2008 for leaf lettuce grew to 95,327 acres, up more than 1,000 acres from the previous year.

While overall lettuce acreage in the Salinas Valley declined by about 3,000 acres to 150,246 acres in 2008, the most recent year with data available, the value of all lettuce varieties combined remained at more than $1.1 billion, down slightly from 2007.

Iceberg lettuce acreage for 2008 continued to decline to 54,919 acres, with romaine lettuce growing about 2,000 acres to 32,121 acres. Head lettuce is Salinas’s third most valuable crop, worth $460 million in 2008.

Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, executive vice president of sales and marketing for D’Arrigo Bros. Co., said in April that iceberg liners were still in Yuma, but by the week of April 13, all the company’s commodities would be back in the Salinas area.

“There have been minor adjustments to the budgeted numbers for the Salinas season, but it should be pretty unrecognizable to our customer base,” D’Arrigo-Martin said.