(Aug. 27) SALINAS, Calif. — Buyers can expect leaf and lettuce prices that have clawed their way from summerlong bottoms to slowly increase into the fall as homegrown lettuce disappears.

Growers said they expect a small dip in prices for the Labor Day weekend, but after that prices should continue a slow climb. And they were hopeful for a much stronger September, barring a repeat of the terrorist attacks that slowed foodservice sales last year.

Nonetheless, as August ended a summer in which lettuce prices have remained rock bottom since the beginning of the Salinas season, prices were lower than this time last year by as much as $4 a carton.

Margaret D’Arrigo Martin, executive vice president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of Calif., said demand generally increases in the fall, as East Coast and Canadian customers looking for product after other seasons in their regions end.

She said buyers can expect normal volumes for this time of year, which is a little more than summer volumes. Salinas growers normally cut back on volumes during the summer, when regional and homegrown deals are active.

Cool August weather in the Salinas Valley led to good quality crops and steady volumes, and growers said they expected that trend to continue for a few weeks.

However, September and October traditionally bring higher temperatures to the valley, which could cause tip burn in some warmer parts of the valley. But growers pointed out that even if daytime temperatures are somewhat higher in September, nights are cooler and there are more hours of darkness.

“Overall, due to great growing weather, supplies have been steadier than they have been in a while,” said Bob Polovneff, sales manager for Castroville-based Ocean Mist Farms.

“We’re seeing good demand with kids going back to school and foodservice in the schools. We’re starting to see that hit now.”

On Aug. 27, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that Salinas Valley lettuce movement was increasing and that quality was good. Cartons of iceberg 24s went for $6.10-6.60, while cartons of film-wrapped 24s went for $7.64-8.50. The week before, cartons of 24s sold for $8.10, while cartons of film-wrapped 24s sold for $9.60-10.60.

A year ago, the USDA reported that quality was inconsistent and that prices were higher. Cartons of 24s sold for about $12.10, and cartons of film-wrapped 24s sold for $12.60-13.60.

Romaine supplies also have been generally stable but of varying quality, the USDA reported Aug. 27. Growers agreed, saying some romaine and romaine hearts in the outlying areas of the valley had suffered tip burn.

Romaine prices were generally $8.75-9.75 for cartons of 24s. The previous week they had been slightly lower, commanding $8.60-9.60. A year ago, cartons of 24s of romaine sold for $11-12.66.