Weather delays lettuce harvest, affects crop quality

05/21/2009 05:57:23 PM
Dawn Withers

SALINAS, Calif. — Cooler temperatures delayed the lettuce harvest a few days but caused no supply gaps as production peaked in early May.

Most harvesting of the Salinas Valley’s most valuable crop began in mid-April and growers said they are seeing some quality issues associated with soil diseases and weather-related damage from extreme heat the week of April 13 and later dramatically cooler temperatures.

Steve Church, vice president and director of operations of Church Bros. LLC, said cooler temperatures have slowed growth overall for the company’s leafy greens.

Yields have been light since the transition from winter production in Yuma, Ariz., back to Salinas for spring, Church said.

“We’ve had weather issues,” Church said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of May 1 film-lined 24s of iceberg are getting prices of $10.45-15.35, with 24s film-wrapped fetching $11.45-16.35, and 30s film-wrapped selling for between $7-9.35.

For romaine, the USDA listed prices of $6.45-10.05 for 24s. Romaine hearts in cartons of 12 were selling for 9.45-12.75, and romaine hearts in film-lined cartons of 48s sold for $10.55-15.75.

Green leaf in 24s was selling for $10.45-13.50.

Volume and quality are good for leafy greens harvested by Boggiatto Produce Inc., said president Michael Boggiatto, adding the transition from back from the desert through Huron, Calif., to Salinas was one of the smoothest ever for the company.

“The weather cooperates, and it works out,” he said.

Early harvests of romaine had some tip burn from heat in April, Boggiatto said, but there weren’t widespread quality issues affecting overall volume.

Duda Farm Fresh Foods, a fresh division of A. Duda & Sons Inc., Oviedo, Fla., also saw some delays in initial harvesting, with short supply gaps during the early spring transition back to Salinas, said Sammy Duda, vice president. The company grows iceberg, romaine and mixed green lettuces.

“We had some supply issues,” Duda said.

Overall, growers said they were conservative with their plantings this year, not greatly boosting acreage for leafy greens in anticipation of soft demand from consumers and also to maintain better pricing levels.

Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, executive vice president of sales and marketing for D’Arrigo Bros. Co., said romaine hearts is the company’s largest program and everything is running well despite weather problems with the early Salinas season.

Iceberg “is a little under what we want ours to be,” D’Arrigo-Martin said. “We’ll be light for up to the next week. Everything else is pretty much normal, and we’re not having major quality issues.”


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