Lettuce and tomato prices, which soared in November, remained high in December, and grower-shippers said prices for many lettuce and tomato items wouldn’t drop anytime soon.


On Dec. 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $27.50-29.50 for cartons 24s of iceberg lettuce from Arizona, up from $11.45-12.45 last year at the same time.


Cartons 24s of Arizona romaine were $24.45-27.50, up from $13.50 last year.


Don’t expect those romaine numbers to move much in the immediate future, Michael Boggiatto, president of Boggiatto Produce Inc., Salinas, Calif., said Dec. 9.


“I don’t see where things get better, in terms of lower prices, in the next couple of weeks,” he said. “There’s  been some colder weather down south in the desert, with some damage.”


Blistering and peeling have increased because of the cold snap, Boggiatto said. Also, crews have been thinning crops more than normal.


“I don’t think there will be a huge shortage, unless they get some big freezes, but I think the prices will stay pretty high for awhile,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a lot out there.”


Florida tomatoes also continued to sell for significantly more than last year at the same time. According to the USDA, 25-pound cartons of 5x6 mature-greens were $25.95-26.95 on Dec. 8, up from $11.95-12.95 last year at the same time.


Smaller tomatoes were slightly cheaper, but still well above last year. Cartons of 6x7 greens were $20.95-21.95, up from $11.95-12.95 last year.


Demand was still exceeding supply on 5x6s, but was weakening on 6x6s and especially on 6x7s, Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead, Fla.-based DiMare Co., said Dec. 9.


Florida volumes had been picking up, DiMare said. But that was before excessive rains hit the Palmetto/Ruskin growing area.


“The rains the last three weeks are taking their toll,” he said. “Palmetto, Ruskin will wind down quickly, and volumes will probably drop off a bit.”


While volumes out of the Immokalee, Fla., growing region should be steady by the week of Dec. 14, volumes would likely be light at the beginning of the Homestead, Fla., deal, which is expected to begin about the first of the year, DiMare said.


Prices for 5x6s would likely remain high in the short term, but there could be “a lot of downward pressure” on prices for smaller tomatoes, DiMare said.


Potato shippers struggle with low pricing


Not all vegetables are enjoying boom markets, however. Potato prices continue to stay very low, and shippers are at best cautiously optimistic about the near future.


On Dec. 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $5 for 50-pound cartons of russets 40-100s from Idaho, down from $11-12.50 last year at the same time. Prices in other russet-growing regions were only slightly higher.


“I’d like to say it’s going to go up, but there are a lot of potatoes out there, more than I’ve seen in a lot of years,” said Tom Lundgren, owner and president of Spud City Sales LLC, Stevens Point, Wis. “We’re real close now to the cost of production, and some states are under.”