SALINAS, Calif. — April marks the return of peak vegetable production for the Salinas Valley, but despite the area’s reputation for salads, it’s not lettuce that comes back first.

March is when most grower-shippers begin their annual crop rotation from the California and Arizona desert winter growing areas back to northern California for spring and summer.

The earliest crops to return to Salinas were broccoli and cauliflower in early March, at a time when quality issues persisted with broccoli because of heavy rain fall, growers said.

The wet weather continued into early April and the cooler than normal temperatures have slowed the growth of many lettuce varieties, growers said, with smaller iceberg head weights as a consequence.

“For Salinas, it’s going to depend on the weather in (April),” said Bruce Knobeloch, who oversees River Ranch’s sales and marketing, processing, distribution and agricultural operations as chief operating officer.

Continuous wet weather throughout April could cause some minor delays, but “if temperatures moderate and it’s not as wet, the plants definitely have the ability to correct a lot of issues given time,” Knobeloch said.

Despite the wetter, cooler weather, grower-shippers said they aren’t experiencing major supply gaps through the transition and expect early quality issues like mildew with spinach and some leaf burn to stop in April when the weather conditions usually improve.

April also means peak production for area artichokes, when the season’s largest volumes ship from Castroville before taking a dip come summer.

Dale Huss, vice president of artichoke production for Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, said plants are showing strong quality early in the season and frost so far hasn’t been an issue.

Over at D’Arrigo Bros. Co., the transition brings back many vegetables including colored cauliflower and romaine lettuce. Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, executive vice president of sales and marketing, said that while yields were affected by rain in early spring, sizing and quality are improving as “we begin to get deeper into our planting schedule.”
“Our program is consistent from past years,” D’Arrigo-Martin said.

Michael Boggiatto, president and general manger of Boggiatto Produce Inc., said the company still has its baby icebergs in Brawley and is seeing a good end with average quality to the desert deal, which was marred by frost and other weather-related problems earlier this season. No supply shortages are expected as the company transitions to Salinas in coming weeks.

Gary Andreasian, vice president of sales and general manager of Growers Express LLC, said there’s a good volume and quality from the company’s Salinas broccoli and cauliflower, with early quality problems associated with rain and lower temperatures diminishing as weather improved in April.

“We’re promoting to meet our customers’ needs,” Andreasian said.