Bengard Ranch Inc. now is harvesting good-quality broccoli and a wide range of other vegetables, says Steve Koran, general manager. “We didn’t have any disruptions with any weather events,” he says. ( Courtesy Bengard Ranch Inc. )

Good growing weather this winter should result in some exceptional fruit and vegetable crops out of California’s Salinas Valley this season.

Monterey County, which encompasses the valley, produced about $2.8 billion worth of vegetables in 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available from the county agricultural commissioner’s office, and just over $1 billion worth of fruit.

Salinas-based Coastline Family Farms will ship about 25 kinds of mixed vegetables, including iceberg lettuce, romaine, romaine hearts, leaf lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green onions, kale and spinach this season, said Tami Gutierrez, vice president sales and marketing.

Wet weather during planting and again during harvesting in April could reduce early-season yields and result in scattered quality issues that should be resolved as the season progresses, she said.

Volume at Coastline should be about the same as last year early in the season but likely will be down during the summer as the company cuts back planting because of competition from other growing areas during the peak growing season and because of the impact of COVID-19.

“Due to COVID-19, we have reduced our summer planting because we don’t know what the recovery period is going to be like,” she said.

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Gonzalez, Calif.-based Misionero Vegetables LLC has year-round programs for salads, value-added lettuces and mostly organic vegetables, said Nicole Zapata, marketing manager.

Like many Salinas grower-shippers, the company grows in the desert during the fall and winter and transitions back to the Salinas Valley for spring and summer. 

“Given the current circumstances happening across the globe, we are being mindful of our planting schedule,” Zapata said.

“We’re maintaining retail distribution and anticipating potential bounce back for foodservice sales throughout the summer and fall.”

There were a few weather challenges this winter, Zapata said, but overall, quality is good.

Iceberg lettuce, romaine, romaine hearts, broccoli, cauliflower, green leaf and red leaf are shipping from Salinas-based Bengard Ranch Inc., said Steve Koran, general manager.

The company now has a celery deal in Oxnard that will switch to Salinas in June.

Quality is excellent, he said.

“We didn’t have any disruption with any weather events.”

Product is plentiful, he said, but he added that retail and especially foodservice demand was uncertain in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Everybody is rolling along, but the distribution avenues are going to change drastically until restaurants open again,” said Gib Papazian, president of Lucky Strike Farms, Burlingame, Calif.

Although restaurants in California were closed because of the outbreak, more than half were open for takeout orders, he said.

“They’re not doing a brisk business, but they’re doing enough business to keep their place on life support,” Papazian said.

He said he was concerned for independent restaurants.

“Several of them are having a terrible struggle right now,” he said.

Lucky Strike’s foodservice business is “within acceptable risk tolerances,” Papazian said.

“It is still a daily financial challenge collecting money and paying our growers in accordance with our historical practices,” he said. “But we’ll get through it.” 

The company handles a full line of vegetables, citrus, some melons and fruit.

“I expect quality is going to be top-notch through the summer,” he said.

The berry deal also was progressing well.

In an April 10 crop update, The Buzz, from Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Berry Farms, the company said that Salinas berries should be good quality despite some mid-April showers.

With no rain forecast for the rest of April, Cal Giant was looking forward to “a very rapid increase in production.”

“Our blackberry and raspberry season will also kick off come May and into June,” the company said.

Raspberries were set to begin in the middle of May, and blackberries should be ready for harvest by the middle of June.

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