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Supplies continue to look tight on North American iceberg lettuce

The tightening of the lettuce crop seems to be continuing thanks to a variety of factors. “We are finding supply of iceberg lettuce to be reduced,” says Mark McBride of Salinas, Ca.-based Coastline Family Farms. “We’ve had a very unusual period of very very warm weather. Typically it does warm up from the beginning to end of March but we’ve been battling 90-95 degree temperatures for about the last two weeks.” In turn, combining that much heat with warm nights, the lettuce matures faster than normal. “And that’s a lot of heat, very much ahead of schedule and it’s hard to crop,” adds McBride. “We’ve had to make several adjustments to our harvesting schedule due to rapidly maturing fields.”

McBride says he knows that there have been some seed types which have encountered some pretty substantial losses. “From a quality and growth standpoint and that whole situation is going to come to a head later this week and certainly next week,” he says. Notably, in the past some shippers have stretched the growing season from Yuma-based produce later and started the Salinas region early. “This year, with the amount of heat issues out here, the tail end of the desert deal may be questionable,” says McBride. “And with the substantial amount of rain we’ve gotten in Salinas this winter, that’s affected everybody’s ability to plant and farm their crops normally.” 

Interest from Europe
On the flip side, demand is good too for lettuce, one of the bigger commodity crops that’s used for both fresh market sales and processing needs. And while domestic demand is persistent, Coastline has also done more business with Europe as well. “We’ve done more business with Europe this spring than in the past,” McBride says. “So that’s European demand on top of the normal domestic demand.”

So pricing, notes McBride, has generally ranged from $17.50-$20.50 per carton. “It’s quite a bit higher than last year at this time,” he says. “The transition period over the last few years has been generally oversupplied. Prices have been fair and there’s been a radical departure from that.”

Gaps in the market?
Looking ahead, McBride predicts some challenges on the supply side. “We’re looking at a substantial light spot coming up,” he says. “Overall supply will be quite a bit below normal so the norm from the past couple of years will be disrupted. With the unprecedented heat in the desert and the above normal rainfall in the northern and central California districts, it’ll be a challenge.”

For more information:
Mark McBride
Coastline Family Farms
Tel: +1 831-755-1430

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