SALINAS, Calif. — The cool, wet spring is a thread running through conversations with most California fresh produce grower-shippers this year.
The state’s coastal area lettuce and leaf vegetable producers are no exception.
“It’s been tricky with the rain,” said Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, executive vice president of sales and marketing for D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California. “It seemed as if we had rain week after week.”
An advantage for D’Arrigo Bros., she said, was that the company grows its own crops.
“We have the luxury of not having to rely on other growers,” D’Arrigo-Martin said.
The effects of the unseasonably cool, wet weather could be long-term.
“It disrupted our planting, cultivating and fertilizing schedules for the spring and summer crops,” said Mike Antle, executive vice president for harvest operations for Tanimura & Antle Inc. “And the spring-summer rescheduling is going to disrupt the fall schedules as well.”
Another problem created by the weather was shorter shelf life, said Michael Boggiatto, president and general manager of Boggiatto Produce Inc.
“We’ve seen loads that looked fine when they left here, but not on arrival,” he said. “Sometimes the product just has no legs, and nobody could assure the quality.”
Boggiatto said he told customers to be patient, to use what they could of the early shipments, because better weather and higher quality were coming.
On Boggiatto fields, yields were up over 2009 — despite the weather and the company’s planting about the same acreage, Boggiatto said.
Harvesting of mixed salad got under way at Pacific International Marketing Inc., Salinas, in late March, said Dave Johnson, vice president. A byproduct of the spring weather, he said, was higher than normal insect pressure.
While some crops at Coastline were producing lighter yields, “quality was still there,” said Mark McBride, office sales manager.
“Head size has been smaller than normal overall,” he said. “We’ve gone into fields on the early side to get it at the best possible condition.”
The limited supply resulted in higher f.o.b.s in early summer.
“We’re still not normal. We not only had more rain, but we had rain far longer into the season,” McBride said July 2. “That’s why the prices are running $13-15, and I can’t remember that’s happening before at this time of the season.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported July 13 that f.o.b.s for Salinas and Santa Maria cartons of film-wrapped iceberg lettuce size 24 were $16-17.75.
Cartons of romaine lettuce, 48s, brought $10.55-13.55.
Comparing those prices to year ago f.o.b.s: on July 13, 2009, the USDA reported prices for film-wrapped iceberg lettuce size 24 were $8.45-10.56, while buyers were paying $12.35-13.50 for size 24 romaine.
Early harvesting also was standard practice at the start of the season for Misionero Vegetables, Gonazles, said Danny Canales, vice president of sales and marketing.
“By getting the tender leaves out of the fields early, we were able to avoid tip burn on those warmer days,” he said.
About 150 miles to the south, weather was less a problem.
“We’ve been very consistent on our numbers,” said Don Klusendorf, director of sales and marketing for Santa Maria-based Bonipak Produce Co. “Quality has been excellent, and we’ve done a very good job on our rotation.”
By keeping the product moving through the pipeline, Bonipak encountered very few quality issues, he said. .
For most grower-shippers, planting acreage is in line with 2009. Tanimura & Antle had reduced acreage for some varieties, but increased acreage for others, Antle said.
Volume of iceberg and leaf lettuce varieties will continue to climb through July, grower-shippers said, and promotable supplies will be available into November.