(Aug. 23) SALINAS, Calif. — Following a dip in mid-August, shippers were experiencing stronger than normal prices and expected that will continue through August.

Tom Oliveri, director of trade practices and commodity services for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, said that because of the heatwave across the nation, homegrown produce “took a serious beating.”

Woody Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing for Growers Express LLC, Salinas, Calif., agreed.

“We’ve had a market that’s been trending higher that’s certainly related to supply,” he said in mid-August. “For the last week and into the next two weeks it’s going to be a struggle just to meet our obligations with our contract business.”

PRICES

On Aug. 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the iceberg market in Salinas-Watsonville, Calif., was high, with prices varying widely, from $14.50-17.35 for naked cartons of iceberg lettuce, but mostly $15.50-16.35 and occasionally higher for film-wrapped cartons. Demand was light for romaine, with a wide range in prices and appearance, from $12.50-16.96, mostly $12.95-15.45 and a few as low as $10.50.

In Santa Maria, Calif., USDA reported moderate demand. Naked heads went for mostly $14-16.35. Demand was moderate for red leaf and slightly lower for green leaf, with a wide range in prices. Cartons of green leaf went for $10.35-13, but mostly $12-12.65. Romaine demand was moderate, with prices of $10.35-12.50, but mostly $11-12.50.

Last year at about the same time in Salinas-Watsonville, cartons of 24 were mostly $4.25-5.35 and film-wrapped 24s mostly $6-7.25. Romaine 24s were mostly $6.25-7.25.

In Santa Maria, cartons of 24s were mostly $4.25 and film-wrapped 24s were $5.35-6.35.

QUALITY

Hot weather that recently hit California caused some lettuce plants to bunch up and there were also a lot of puffy heads, Johnson said.

There are still some problems lingering in the lettuce with seeder issues.

“Heat stress caused some of the lettuce to bolt, making the seed stock grow upward in the heads,” said Jerry Esquivel, president of Salinas-based Chieftain Harvesting.

Esquivel said volume is down 10% to 15% compared to what is normally available.

Grower-shippers agreed the market would most likely continue to be tight, resulting in stronger-than-normal prices for the near future.

“We are extremely light on supplies for the next couple of weeks,” said Steve Davis, sales manager for iceberg lettuce at Mills Family Farms, Salinas.