Spanish iceberg lettuce is not going through the best of times. Oversupply and pressure from large retailers to reduce prices are putting producers in a very delicate situation.
"For this winter campaign, we expected a similar production to last year's, although prolonged high temperatures until late November caused some of Murcia's lettuce to be unfit for sale. As a result, we had to leave about 50% of the production unharvested," explains Domingo Llamas, president of the Murcian producer and exporter Grupo Hoyamar.
"We have already had two years in a row with autumn temperatures that feel like summer, but Iceberg lettuce, which has become quite popular amongst the region's producers, needs temperatures not exceeding 20 to 25 degrees Celsius to grow properly, and surely not higher than 35 degrees, as has been the case until November," he continues.
According to Domingo Llamas, "the campaign started with bad prices because of competition from local producers in the export destinations. As soon as we were alone in the European market, in early November, we had three weeks with more reasonable prices. But with the drop in temperatures, harvest volumes started to increase, flooding the market," he affirms. "I think there is a clear lettuce oversupply. Growers planted more than the market could absorb," he adds.
"While it is true that consumption has also been lower, large supermarket chains are taking advantage of producers, offering them ridiculous prices. Discount supermarkets were the first to do this, but other retail chains have followed suit, giving rise to a price war that is 'killing' the producers; they are the most affected by this without a doubt," states Llamas.
At the moment, with about 30% of the campaign completed, temperatures still remain around 18 degrees and plants continue to grow quickly. "We expected temperatures to drop a little more this month, so that the plants' growth would slow down, leaving a gap in production, but this has not been the case."
More stable situation for broccoli
Another vegetable increasingly more planted in Murcia during the autumn and winter is broccoli, which, for now, "is registering moderately acceptable prices, although we must bear in mind that a lot of produce has been destroyed, as it did not meet the requirements for sale, both as a result of heat and moisture," said Llamas.
"For the past two weeks, broccoli demand has been lower, but hopefully it will increase again after Christmas."
Grupo Hoyamar is able to produce and market lettuce and broccoli all year round by managing production areas in different locations.