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Hot market kicks off winter lettuce deal

by Tim Linden | November 15, 2011

A hotter-than-usual October, followed by an early cold snap in November, has led to a fairly hot lettuce market on the early end of the California and Arizona winter vegetable deal.

Butch Corda, general manager of Ippolito International LP in Salinas, CA, told The Produce News Nov. 14, “Right now, we have short supplies. And with the Thanksgiving pull, we are seeing some pretty good markets on lettuce and many of the other crops -- peppers, Romaine, the leaf items, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower. They’ve got good markets also. We have a chance to see a pretty good market for quite some time.”

Mr. Corda said that as he spoke, the Thanksgiving pull was at its peak. So it remained to be seen how the market would react when that demand subsides. But looking at what he suspects will be the future supplies, he was expecting the market to remain fairly strong.

On Nov. 15, the market was in the $15 range for head lettuce and was looking like it was going to head higher as the week progressed. “I can’t tell you if it’s going to be $13 or shoot to $30, but it should be a good market,” Mr. Corda said.

Russell Widerburg from Boskovich Farms Inc. in Oxnard, CA, concurred. “For the next several weeks, I think we are going to be short of lettuce,” he said.

He added that green onions could be in light supply with heavy demand throughout the rest of the year because of some rain in coastal California in October that limited supplies of that crop, which is one of Boskovich’s signature items.

Jeff Percy, vice president of desert production for Ocean Mist Farms in Castroville, CA, also believes that a hot market might prevail for a while. Speaking Nov. 14 from his Coachella, CA, office, he said, “We had the hottest October on record. That caused some lower yields, and I think we are going to see lighter supplies of lettuce, Romaine, cauliflower and broccoli until at least early December.”

Franz DeKlotz, vice president of marketing for Pasha Marketing in Mecca, CA, also expects a good year for the winter vegetable deal. However, he did not talk about the fall weather but rather the total California supply situation. He said that the vegetable deals in coastal California as well as the state’s Central Valley cleaned up very well in October, “and we are transitioning perfectly into Coachella Valley. The markets are reacting very well, and I expect a very good season.”

Mike Aiton, vice president of marketing for Prime Time International, was a little bit hesitant to predict the future. Prime Time specializes in red, yellow and green peppers, and he said, “I don’t know what to expect this year.”

The previous two winters have seen devastating weather problems in competing areas. Florida had several freezes in 2009, which wiped out much of the state’s pepper crop. And last season, Mexico had a freeze, which hurt supplies. Consequently, vegetable growers did pretty well and peppers returned record high prices earlier this year. High prices one year often bring increased supplies and low prices the following year, so Mr. Aiton is taking a wait-and-see approach.