Weather throws off lettuce production; prices spike - The Packer

Weather throws off lettuce production; prices spike

11/13/2009 10:45:45 AM
Andy Nelson

A string of weather events has caused prices for California leaf and lettuce items and other vegetables to climb — and in some cases, to soar.

And they may not come down until late November at the earliest, though an earlier start to deals in Yuma, Ariz., where quality and yields are forecast to be good, could lower markets.

Dawn Withers

Crews harvest iceberg lettuce this summer for Tanimura & Antle, Salinas, in a field near Salinas. Prices for lettuce and other vegetables have climbed due to short supplies and quality issues just before the production swing to Yuma, Ariz.

The commodity most affected as of mid-November was romaine. On Nov. 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $30 for carton 24s of California romaine, up from $10.35-11.50 last year at the same time.

Prices of California-grown iceberg lettuce, spinach, artichokes, red and green leaf lettuce and other vegetables also were up significantly over last year.

Joe Feldman, vice president of sales and marketing for Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms, attributed the price spikes to “weather related challenges,” including heavy rains and severe winds in mid-October, unseasonably warm weather in October and unseasonably cool weather in November.

“The adverse weather has caused reduced plant yields,” Feldman said. “We’re being selective and culling heavily.”

A production gap is likely until about Nov. 30, and markets will likely stay very strong at least through the week of Nov. 23, he predicted.

In mid-November, quality from Salinas was poor and supplies scant, said Steve Church, vice president of operations for Church Bros. LLC, Salinas.

Bacterial leaf spot and mildew, leftovers from the October rains, caused problems, Church said.

The Salinas deal winds down a week or two early for Church Bros., he said. The company was projected to begin harvesting iceberg in Yuma Nov. 13, with romaine and leaf lettuces starting the week of Nov. 16.

Early reports promise good quality and yields in Yuma, Church said.

One company hit hard by the shortages and quality issues is Miami-based The Produce Connection Inc.

The company had to cancel some of its California romaine heart shipments to the Caribbean, said Bruce Fishbein, partner.

“We were told that the product out of Salinas was suspect at best and that Yuma would not really get under way until after Thanksgiving,” Fishbein said. “We have been told that the Salinas product has wind burn, mildew, tip burn and general poor quality.”

Fishbein said Dole, Ocean Mist and other companies mailed letters to customers warning them not to expect much lettuce through the end of November.



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