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Vegetable supplies expected to be tight through Thanksgiving

With California’s coastal and San Joaquin Valley vegetable deals winding down prior to the volume coming on in the desert deals, many items are in a demand-exceeds-supply situation that could remain in effect through Thanksgiving.

On Monday, Oct. 27, the Iceberg lettuce market hit $20 f.o.b. and there is every indication it could go much higher over the next couple of weeks. While demand was solid the week of Oct. 27-31, it will only increase as the Thanksgiving pull is felt. Thanksgiving demand is expected to pick up around Nov. 11 and supplies are expected to be short.

Mark McBride, who is on the sales desk for Coastline Produce in Salinas, CA, and a longtime veteran in the vegetable business, said warm weather and the California drought have combined to create “a very challenging situation.”

He explained that fields have been running ahead of schedule for the last couple of months because of warm weather.

“We are running out of acres to harvest,” he said Oct. 29.

He further explained that the drought and changing cropping patterns have reduced the fall vegetable deal in Huron in the San Joaquin Valley “to a fraction of what it used to be. Say what you want about Huron, but it played a very important role.”

Today more and more grower-shippers have tried to extend their coastal deals and switch directly from the California coast to desert production in California and Arizona in the fall.

The California drought has also led to decreased San Joaquin Valley acreage causing the October-November time slot occupied by Huron to shrink considerably.

McBride said celery from the Oxnard to Santa Maria corridor appears to be in good shape, as are green onions from Mexico, “but the leaf items, cauliflower and broccoli to some extent, are short and I don’t see that changing until after Thanksgiving.”

Douglas Schaefer, president of EJ’s Produce Sales Inc. in Phoenix, told The Produce News Oct. 29 that a very difficult situation was brewing.  

“Salinas is about finished, yields from Huron are off and Yuma is late,” Schaefer said, noting that late August and early September rains in Arizona greatly affected planting schedules and threw everyone off.  “It’s all because of H20.”  

He said these factors — Arizona getting too much water and California not getting enough — are going to lead to a very short situation for the rest of November.  

In addition, Schaefer said many other crops, including watermelons and tomatoes, are having supply issues leading to high prices.

When asked how high the market could go on lettuce, Schaefer said the sky is the limit. “It’s like a hot air balloon,” he quipped. “How high is it going to go? Until it runs out of oxygen.”

Schaefer added that he is already getting inquiries for the Thanksgiving pull with retailers and wholesalers trying to set up advance sales beginning during the week of Nov. 7.  

“Strap on your boots and fasten your seat belts,” he said, indicating that a wild ride is in the works.