With recent significant changes in demand for commodities, thanks in part to a serious drop in foodservice business, some West Coast growers are looking ahead to spring and summer and wondering where it leaves them in planning for future crops.
“Our most difficult challenge is planning and forecasting in these uncertain times,” says John Scherpinski of Salinas, CA-based D’Arrigo California. “Like end users, we as growers do not know what level of demand will exist late spring or early summer. Local seasons are currently planted and set to begin harvest in mid-May. From that point, additional items will become available each week until most items are grown regionally and available throughout the summer.”
Scherpinski adds that there are many factors that remain unknown as to how they’ll affect the upcoming California crops including if regional growers will have the labor to harvest their crops consistently. He also notes that D’Arrigo faces labor challenges of its own such as pressure from local wine grape, berry and cannabis companies who are paying top dollar for labor.
Cutting back on acreage
“As an industry, the Salinas Valley has reduced acreage planted, not increased,” says Scherpinski, who notes that D’Arrigo’s crops include mixed leaf lettuces, romaine hearts, iceberg lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower. “With the high cost and need to plant so far in advance, we have made some adjustments to planting rather than continue at the same rate with too high a risk. Especially since business isn’t showing signs of a full recovery any time soon.”
If labor is a challenge to local growers, another question is: will regions have to lean on West Coast growers for product? “Vendors have communicated the desire to move as much as in past years--or more potentially--into support of local season,” says Scherpinski. “Unless there are any hiccups with that timing or labor force, fresh vegetable growers from the Salinas Valley may continue to struggle marketing their commodities through the summer months.”
Waiting for feedback
He adds that D’Arrigo is taking things one planting, or three months ahead, at a time. “And we’ll continue to evaluate based on customer feedback and data and then plan accordingly,” he says. “So much is uncertain and end user partners are just as foggy as to what their needs will or will not be for the West Coast.”
Looking ahead, Scherpinski says that this year, companies will continue to recover from economic shutdowns and remain uncertain as to what pace the recovery will take. “With an ambiguous landscape moving forward, and for companies similar to D’Arrigo California, we are doing our best to remain in constant contact with our vendor partners to understand their needs and challenges,” he says. “Our goal is to align our vendor needs with advanced planning which is a must considering the growing cycle can take 75-90 days this time of year depending on the commodity. We don’t intend to gamble on what may or may not be a strong recovery these next months, so, a buffer of supply will not be planted.”