California lettuce growers expect strong deal

California lettuce growers expect strong deal

Good growing conditions should result in plenty of high-quality vegetables out of the California desert this winter, grower-shippers say. But rain in Yuma, Ariz., could affect early iceberg lettuce volume.

Coastline Family Farms expected to transition its lettuce crop from Salinas, Calif., to Yuma around Nov. 10, said salesman Mark McBride.

The program will move to Brawley around Dec. 5.

The Yuma area was hit by a “pretty significant storm system” from the Gulf of California, which brought heavy rain and hail, he said.

Such a storm can damage or even destroy planted fields, he said.

“There were some significantly damaged fields planted for the early part of the Yuma deal,” McBride said.

The storm pushed back the start date by several days.

It didn’t help that warm weather in Salinas brought on that crop seven to 12 days earlier than anticipated.

“It’s made for a light spot in the supply of iceberg lettuce,” he said, and that also has affected the romaine market.

“The romaine market and the lettuce market have been elevated,” McBride said.

But the delays should only be temporary.

“We hope to be back on track in early December,” he said, but supplies could be tight for Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, Coastline expected to start harvesting about two dozen items, including romaine, romaine hearts, cauliflower, green leaf and red leaf lettuce out of Brawley around Thanksgiving and continue until early April.

Brawley also received some rain, but not to the extent that Yuma did.

“To my knowledge, everything (in Brawley) came through the rain in very good shape,” he said. “We didn’t lose any acreage.”

McBride said there could be tight supplies of lettuce industrywide through November.

“At this point, everything from the start of the Brawley deal on all items does look good,” he said.

The vast majority of the winter vegetables that Boskovich Fresh Food Group grows is produced in Oxnard, Calif., where the company is based, said sales manager Russ Widerburg.

But the company complements its program of celery, cabbages, romaine, red- and green-leaf lettuce and other items with a limited amount of lettuce and some red and green leaf in Yuma, Ariz.

Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, Calif., will start its red and green leaf program around Nov. 11, said John Burton, general manager, sales and cooler.
The romaine deal should kick off no later than Nov. 18.

All the vegetables were planted and “looking good,” he said in late October.

Growing weather has been good.

“The worst thing for leaf is freezing temperatures and hail or heavy rain, and we haven’t had any of that,” he said.

He expected the company to have load volumes of leaf items by Thanksgiving and continue through March.

Jeff Percy, vice president of production south for Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif., said the Coachella growing region is ideally suited for growing the company’s complete line of fresh produce, including the Ocean Mist Organic line.

“During the winter season, we grow our Desert Globe proprietary artichokes as well as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cardone, cauliflower, celery, fennel/sweet anise, a full line of leafy greens, green cabbage, iceberg lettuce, rapini/broccoli rabe and spinach,” he said.

He expected to start harvesting iceberg and leaf items around Nov. 18, and he said broccoli and cauliflower should kick off on Nov. 23, a bit later than usual.  

“So far, the weather has been kind to the Coachella Valley with great, mild conditions and low insect pressure,” he said, adding that Ocean Mist has increased its Brussels sprouts and iceberg lettuce production this year. 

Fresno, Calif.-based Baloian Farms planned to begin harvesting in the Coachella Valley during the first part of November, said Jeremy Lane, sales manager.

Wet vegetables, such as romaine, romaine hearts, red leaf, green leaf, jumbo butter leaf and “beautiful cauliflower” were expected to transition from the Fresno, Calif., area to the Coachella Valley by the third or fourth week of November, he said.

“The Coachella Valley puts out a bright white, beautifully shaped cauliflower,” he said.

And the region also has “quite a reputation” for its 24-count clipped spinach.

“The quality is fantastic out there,” he said. “It has quite a following out of that area.”

Baloian Farms’ overall volume of items like romaine and green leaf will be similar to last season, he said, but volume will be added on other items, like romaine hearts, green onions, cauliflower and celery. 

Related articles:

Should U.S.-grown produce come first?

FDA: No ‘actionable information’ in recent E. coli outbreak

Fresh Summit New Product Preview — Salad Edition