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Hot lettuce market greets winter transition

By
Tim Linden

An iceberg lettuce market with an f.o.b. price in the low $30s is greeting the transition of production from coastal California to the winter vegetable districts in Arizona and California. With Salinas, Santa Maria and Huron districts quickly running out of production with the dawn of November, shippers are or will be transitioning to the desert districts over the next couple of weeks.

Supplies are often a bit low during this period and this year there are even more volume issues that have created the hot market. Salinas Valley has been fighting disease issues for the better part of two months and late summer record-setting heat in California is also reducing yields from the later fields.

“The front end of the Yuma deal is usually a little iffy,” Mark McBride of Coastline Family Farms based in Salinas, CA, said Monday, Nov. 2, noting that his firm would harvest its first Yuma fields on Nov. 4. He said combine that fact with the lower-than-usual end-of-season supplies from Salinas and it’s a perfect storm for a red hot market.

He said most items have strong markets with some of the leaf lettuces trading in the mid to high $30s and others in the $20s. He added that broccoli and cauliflower also have seen a strengthening in their respective markets, selling in the $11-$14 range the first week of November.

McBride said that iceberg lettuce is usually the first crop to transition with the others following suit over the next month. Coastline anticipated transitioning its other lettuce crops — Romaine, green leaf, red leaf etc. — around Nov. 1 with the brassicas starting in the desert the first week of December.

McBride said it is hard to predict how strong the Thanksgiving pull will be with COVID-19 surging again and experts cautioning against large holiday gatherings. He still predicted that the markets would remain strong on the core vegetable items at least through the Thanksgiving holiday.

Down the coast in Santa Maria, Denny Donovan, sales manager for Fresh Kist Produce LLC, had a very similar report. Focusing on celery first, he said that market has been in the dumps through most of the summer. “It has finally strengthened the last week. It went from $6 a week ago to $11-$12 today,” he said on Monday, Nov. 3, “and I think it’s going to continue to strengthen for at least the next couple of weeks.”

Donovan said retailers are already placing their Thanksgiving orders looking for shipping dates to the East Coast during the second full week of November. “It’s anybody’s guess what’s going to happen for Thanksgiving,” he said, but theorized that the demand should still be very good for most vegetable items. People are still going to celebrate just in smaller numbers at each location. In fact, he said demand might go up for an item like celery, which is a very popular Thanksgiving product. There might be more homes actually cooking a Thanksgiving meal and in need of a stalk of celery.

He said how long the hot market lasts is “all up to Mother Nature.” He noted that the desert fields have not had any major yield-reducing issues, but some cold nights or a winter storm is always a possibility.

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