Romaine prices continue to soar as the deal switches from Salinas, Calif., to Yuma, Ariz., and thanks to a slower-than-expected start in Yuma, they could stay in the stratosphere for some time.

Prices for iceberg and leaf lettuces also remain substantially higher than last year.

On Nov. 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of  $34.55-38.56 for cartons 24s of romaine from Salinas, up from $10.55-12.45 last year at the same time. Romaine hearts were fetching as much as $41 a box.

Romaine prices top $40

“It’s the goofiest transition period I’ve ever seen,” said Mark McBride, sales office manager for  Salinas-based Coastline Produce. “I think Dec. 10 is the earliest we’ll see any improvement.”

If current conditions hold, McBride said it would be the longest super-high romaine market he can recall.

Michael Boggiatto, president of Salinas, Calif.-based Boggiatto Produce Inc., said he wouldn’t be surprised if romaine prices kept rising.

“I think there will be a shortage for awhile longer,” he said.

Because shippers are so desperate for product, much of the early harvest in Yuma is expected to occur a week before product is typically harvested, Boggiatto said. As a result, product will likely be smaller, perpetuating the supply scenario at the end of the Salinas deal. 

And if growers keep picking a week early, eventually it will catch up to them, creating a gap, he said.

Ice on romaine and iceberg in Yuma on Nov. 16 and Nov. 17 further complicated matters, said Sammy Duda, vice president of western vegetable operations for Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Salinas, which expects to begin harvesting iceberg in Yuma Nov. 18 and romaine Nov. 23.

“There was a lot of optimism that once we got to the desert, everything would be fine, but that’s not the case,” Duda said.

Supplies will improve, Duda said, but it could be Nov. 27 or later.

“It’s tough to tell, really,” he said. “I don’t know when we’ll get back to normal.” 

Boggiatto Produce is expected to begin its Brawley, Calif., deal after Thanksgiving. While early-season reports there are good, volumes won’t likely hit until about Dec. 14, Boggiatto said.

For an update on this story from The Packer's Dawn Withers, go here.