(Aug. 8) SALINAS, Calif. — Lettuce shippers in the Salinas Valley saw f.o.b.s for romaine hit double digits in early August, thanks partly to weather-related shortages and steady processor demand.

As always, markets ahead will depend on weather, shippers say. Plus, California still has to compete with Eastern deals that offer lower pricing and a freight advantage to regional customers, said Henry Dill, sales manager for Pacific International Marketing, Salinas.

The week of Aug. 5, f.o.b.s for 24-count cartons of romaine from Salinas reached the $10-11 range.

LAST YEAR

Around the same time last year, prices were mostly $6.60-7.60, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Still, this summer’s spike pales in comparison to the $30 markets for romaine and $60 markets for iceberg seen this winter during the desert deal.

“Not even close,” Dill said.

That’s largely because the summer lettuce deal draws from production across the U.S. and Canada. In early August, when Salinas saw its romaine f.o.b.s around $10, Boston terminal market prices for Canadian romaine were at just $7-8, Dill said..

TRUCKING SHORTAGE

Meanwhile, California has had higher prices and a trucking shortage, which raised the freight per box from Salinas to New York to $5, raising the total carton price to $15.

While California shippers could reap high prices from local processors, the higher prices coupled with freight could diminish demand for their product back East, Dill said. Still, he was hopeful markets would maintain.

“I certainly like to sell stuff for more than what it costs us to pack it,” he said.

Dill said Salinas shortages may have been caused by mildew or tip burn. He expected Pacific International to increase its production toward late August.

By that time, Eastern regional deals will begin to wind down, and more chain stores and wholesalers will begin to source from California again, he said.

The higher markets weren’t limited to California.

Charlie Johnson, president Charles Johnson Co., Las Cruces, N.M., which works out of New Mexico and Colorado, said romaine prices had been around $9 the week of Aug. 5.

“I’m sure it was Mother Nature that caused it. It always is,” Johnson said, noting that spikes rarely come from a planting shortage. ”We never have markets without Mother Nature.”