Crews harvest lettuce for Coastline Family Farms in the Salinas Valley last summer. ( Courtesy Coastline Family Farms )

Although weather issues slowed the start of California’s Salinas Valley produce deal somewhat this spring, conditions were improving by mid-April as rain and cold weather dissipated.

“A cold weather trend at the end of February and early March delayed the growth of several commodities in Salinas and heightened concerns about potential freeze-related quality issues,” said Anthony Mazzuca, senior director of commodity management for Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle Inc.

Volume could be tight on some items in late May and early June because of planting delays, he said.

But conditions should be better than in 2017, he said, when growers experienced extreme delays because of extended periods of wet weather that translated to missed planting dates, a significantly delayed harvest and volatility in supply.

As of early April, he said quality was good with sizing consistent.


Big picture stats

Vegetable crop acreage rose slightly from 286,637 acres in 2015 to 290,987 acres in 2016, the latest year for which statistics are available from the Monterey County agricultural commissioner’s office.

Gross production value for vegetables in 2016 was $2.8 billion, down from $3.2 billion in 2015.

Bob Roach, assistant agricultural commissioner, attributed the drop to “market volatility.”

Gross production value for fruits and nuts rose slightly to $1.06 billion in 2016, up from $1.01 billion in 2015.

Artichoke acreage in Monterey County has undergone a significant drop — from 7,242 acres in 2006 to 4,050 in 2016, according to the county agricultural commissioner.

“Weather has impacted overall artichoke production for several years now,” said Dale Huss, vice president of artichoke production for Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif.

For that reason, the company decided to diversify artichoke growing locations rather than concentrate its volume in Monterey County.


Crop progress

Salinas-based D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California finished its desert lettuce deal the last week of March after wrapping up other items around mid-March, said John Scherpinski, director of sales.

The company’s Salinas crops were progressing, he said in early April.

Most Salinas crops started in early March, but a spring rain descended on the area the last few days of the month.

“We pretty much ceased all harvest,” he said, and quality was a struggle.

Weather conditions improved, however, as did quality, and Scherpinski expected good quality by the end of April.

“It sounds like we’re on pace from a planting perspective,” he said.

Salinas-based Coastline Family Farms kicked off the major part of its Salinas program April 9, after a weekend with some decent rainfall, said Tami Gutierrez, vice president of sales and marketing.

Early leaf lettuce and romaine hearts showed some signs of blister and peel because of early frost, but she expected the crops to be well on the road to recovery by late April.

Lucky Strike Farms, Burlingame, Calif., expects to have a steady vegetable deal this season, president Gib Papazian said.

Papazian said he has noticed a significant increase in the number of contracts with less product sold on the open market recently. That’s led to more volatility when supplies get tight.

“When guys can’t cover their contracts, it drives the market straight up,” he said. “I really bemoan the Wild West open market way.”