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California romaine growers holding product back to boost quality

California greens growers are continuing to pull together plans to recover from the state’s recent cold temperatures.

At one California farm, it’s holding back on the start date for its romaine supply due to blister and peeling on the greens thanks to those chilly temperatures. “There were several overnight lows of 28 degrees consecutively that really impacted the product up there,” says an industry source. “So we’re letting it sit a little longer to let those issues grow out so that when we do pack, we can minimize the issues that make it into the box.”

Delayed start date
While the grower could start at any time, its estimated start date is April 9th. “We’re choosing to not break our own fields because we don’t want to put compromised product in a box—so the start date depends on when those issues grow out,” the source says. “We’ve got some warmer weather hitting soon and that will help things along. The product being held back right now has plenty of days behind it so all it’s going to take is a bit of warm weather to get back on schedule.”

In the meantime, suppliers out of Mexico are helping fill contracts, although on the other side of the country, Florida is still at the tail end of its season.

Demand issues
On the demand side of the equation though, there are several factors to consider. “Historically when you have a transition gap, there’s a bump in the market as we’ve seen in the last several weeks,” says the source, noting the markets start coming off as they move through the transition. However the recall of romaine thanks to E. coli findings that happened in the beginning of 2018 seriously impacted demand. “If that never occurred, demand would have been a totally different story,” says the source. “The market was already on its way up at that point but as soon as that hit, demand fizzled out.”

Influence on pricing
Not surprisingly prices have been affected. While at this time last year pricing was $30-$40 FOB thanks to a market with limited supply, this year prices are settled into the high teens and low $20s for now. “But this year the high asking price is hard to justify because of shipping compromised product,” says the source.

Looking ahead, the industry source believes quality issues may continue to happen for the next two to three weeks but that supplies should pick up from there.

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