Just as quickly as Yuma, Ariz., iceberg lettuce f.o.b.s spiked in mid-January, they lost all their gains as the month ended.
The drop happened despite an ongoing shortage of the lettuce caused by winter weather and an airborne sclerotinia fungus â plus a forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that more of the same lies ahead.
Grower-shippers expect losses of 10% to 20% in some fields through late February after unseasonably cold temperatures continued in the final week of January, according to the USDA.
Cartons of 24 heads were $12.50-13.55 on Jan. 31, down from $22.56-24.50 two weeks before, according to the USDA. Year-ago prices were $6.45-7.50.
âItâs been a wild ride and an unusual set of circumstances,â said Sammy Duda, vice president of Duda Farm Fresh Foods. âSupply is off and will continue to be down in the next two to three weeks, maybe beyond. There was a seeming threat of minimal supply and yet the market went down.â
Quality problems cut into demand for lettuce among buyers. Growers were harvesting heads prematurely, according to the USDA, to minimize anticipated damage. Meanwhile, still harsher weather in non-growing regions kept some consumers out of restaurants and produce aisles.
âIt turned what we thought would be a bad, high-priced situation into a non-event,â Duda said. âThe industry did maybe too good a job of explaining the situation and the trade just adjusted and minimized their purchase of iceberg.â
But quality is improving, Duda said.
âThereâs quite a bit more confidence about what weâre shipping,â he said. âThat should improve the overall situation both in movement and purchasing.â
Yuma romaine lettuce prices also dropped in the monthâs final week from $24.35-25.50 for a 24-count carton to $18.50-20.55. Year-ago prices were $5.35-6.06.