(Feb. 20) Desert lettuce and vegetable prices that spiked in mid-February aren’t likely to do so again unless El Niño rains crop up, sparking gaps in harvests, shippers say.

And as long as more rain stays away, growers say prices should trend downward.

For now, the winter deal is about a week ahead of schedule, as is the deal in Huron, Calif., which should prompt a rebuilding of supplies, they say.

Unusually heavy rains that hit California’s Imperial Valley and growing regions of Arizona, including Yuma, Feb. 12-14 caused a supply reduction that pushed prices into double digits.

But, for many items, the bump was short-lived as the snowstorm that hit Mid-Atlantic States Feb. 16 and moved up to New York and Boston kept many produce shoppers out of stores, squelching demand, shippers reported.

Before the price spike, winter vegetable prices had been sluggish and hovering between $5.50 and $7.50 for cartons of lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower.

“We had a disappointing winter and the big storm back east didn’t help us,” said Rick Antle, president of Tanimura & Antle Inc., Salinas, Calif.

“Bad weather in the East slowed the market back down,” agreed Steve Skuba, spokesman for the Federal-State Market News Service, Phoenix. “The snow is shutting off cities.”

But whether higher prices will remain is to be seen.

“It depends on how the cleanup is going as to where demand will go,” Skuba said. Skuba said he expected the higher prices to be temporary.

“The market is unsettled and in a state of flux,” he said.

As of Feb. 18, wrapped iceberg lettuce sold for $5.10-7.25 f.o.b. for cartons of 24s. On Feb. 14, the price exceeded the $10 mark for cartons. Looking back to Feb. 5, iceberg lettuce sold for $3.60-4.60 f.o.b. for cartons of 24s.

On Feb. 18, romaine lettuce sold for $14.35-16.35 f.o.b. for cartons of 24s. On Feb. 5, the same pack sold for $4.10-6.10 f.o.b.

Broccoli sold for $7.10-9.25 f.o.b. for cartons of size 14 bunches on Feb. 18. Going back to Feb. 5, broccoli sold for $4.10-5.35 f.o.b. for bunched 14s.

Cauliflower prices ranged from $8.35-13.50 f.o.b. for film wrapped cartons of 12 on Feb. 18. That compares to $5-6.50 f.o.b. for the same pack Feb. 5.