The number of growers transitioning from California's Salinas Valley for a
three- to five-week Iceberg lettuce deal in Huron, CA, appears to be
By the second week of November, the Iceberg lettuce harvest in the Salinas
Valley typically has begun winding down. For many growers, both the Salinas
Valley and Huron lead to a transition to desert harvests in areas such as the
Imperial and Coachella valleys in California, and Yuma, AZ. There are, of
course, growers headquartered in hot, arid locations that do all their growing
close to home, such as Richard Bagdasarian Inc. and its vegetable marketing
arm, Pasha Marketing. Bagdasarian and Pasha do all their farming in
California’s Coachella Valley.
"We’ve chosen to stay here and concentrate on Mecca [CA]," Franz DeKlotz,
vice president of marketing for Bagdasarian and point person for Pasha, said.
“We know it inside and out.”
Some companies such as Salinas, CA-based Steinbeck Country Produce and
Salinas-based Ippolito International LP typically bypass Huron and transition
from Salinas directly to Yuma.
In 2009, fall crops in both Huron and the Salinas Valley faced diseases that
affected yields. White fly infestations in Huron contributed to a sub-par
harvest for some companies compared with previous years.
The 2008 fall harvest in Huron may have signaled the start of curtailment in
companies transitioning to Huron or at least cutting back the duration of their
Huron deal. But cutting back in Huron from say five weeks to three weeks
begs the question of viability: Is it worth the effort for a three-week stint?
Huron lies in the San Joaquin Valley’s west-side region, where water supplies
have been tight for several years. Tree fruit, grapes and almonds take priority
for the limited water supplies.
Art Barrientos, vice president of harvesting for Castroville, CA-based Ocean
Mist Farms, told The Produce News in early November that the company “sees
less grower-shippers” in Huron.
Ocean Mist’s fall Iceberg lettuce harvest in Huron, CA, started Nov. 1 and will
run until about Nov. 23. Its Iceberg lettuce harvest in Yuma starts around
Nov. 20 for a three-week run. The company will start all winter crops in the
Coachella Valley around Nov. 22.
Ocean Mist wrapped up much of its winter harvest in the Salinas Valley during
the week of Nov. 1. “Huron used to be four or five weeks [in the fall],” Mr.
Barrientos said. “More and more growers don’t go or go for only three weeks.”
Weather issues anywhere are unknown well in advance, but water issues in
Huron are more understood in advance. “Availability of water in the San
Joaquin Valley is at the mercy of the snowpack in the Sierras,” Mr. Barrientos
said. If snowpack levels are below average, the state allocates water to
Grower-shippers commit to a certain amount of volume and need to know
well in advance what their growing options are. So growers in the San Joaquin
Valley are getting good at advising in advance whether they will have water
for Iceberg lettuce, Mr. Barrientos said.
Staying longer in the Salinas Valley and transitioning to Huron are both
gambles. The Salinas Valley can experience early winter rains and cold
temperatures that negatively affect crops. Some companies transition from
the Salinas Valley to Yuma early, but that also has its challenges.
This year, the Salinas Valley has experienced topsy-turvy weather conditions,
with extremes of unseasonably cold temperatures mixed with heat waves and
Jim Bogart, president of the Salinas, CA-based Grower-Shipper Association of
Central California, told The Produce News Nov. 3 that the fall Huron deal has
become “shorter and shorter” in duration.