(Oct. 7) YUMA, Ariz. — As winter production looms, desert lettuce shippers hope prices this season won’t dip to last year’s $4-6 range.

Shippers said weather would most likely determine pricing this season, and most said harvests are expected to be on time.

High temperatures, which were largely blamed for last season’s low prices, struck again when lettuce was planted in Yuma in early September, said Joe Colace, president of Five Crowns Marketing, Brawley, Calif.

Five Crowns planted about 900 acres of head lettuce this season, and about 300 acres went to romaine.

Humidity was high in early plantings, and temperatures were about five to 12 degrees above normal, Colace said. Shippers said temperatures crawled to the triple digits, reaching about 110 degrees on some days.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that iceberg lettuce cartons of 24s were going for $7-7.25 out of Salinas, Calif., on Oct. 7. Film-wrapped 24s were priced at $8.50-9.60.

At the same time last year, cartons of 24s went for $4.10-4.60, and filmed-wrapped received $5.60-6.60.

“The Salinas shipping period actually proved to be more profitable this year, but they had gone through several poor years before this one,” Colace said.

With an unpredicted $50 lettuce market in March 2002, most shippers said it was difficult to speculate on what’s in store this season.

“You’ve had two extreme events happen in the last two seasons,” said Sammy Duda, vice president and general manager of Duda California/Gene Jackson Farms Inc., Salinas.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty going in to the desert deal, which tends to be unpredictable anyway.”

Duda said his company’s Salinas harvest started April 15 and would end Oct. 22. He said the Huron harvest would pick up about Oct. 22 and run through Nov. 20.

Yuma harvests, he said, would be about Nov. 20 through April 1. The company will then go back to Huron from about April 1 to April 20.