Lettuce is approaching the end of the Arizona growing season with a host of challenges — ranging from reduced volumes to a jump in prices — that are likely to persist through the annual transition from Yuma, Arizona, to Salinas, California, in early April.
As the effects of this growing season’s cold overnight temperatures have started to come into focus, lettuce growers and processors have been reporting both yield and quality issues.
Since the beginning of February, iceberg lettuce volume has fluctuated mightily, with a constant week-over-week change in volume, due to cold temperatures and related harvesting delays. Volumes for romaine lettuce, which is more delicate and susceptible to growing challenges, has also been faced with inconsistent yields due to the frost-bitten product.
In response, shipping point prices - the prices that retailers and foodservice distributors base their contract agreements on - for iceberg lettuce has shot up 400% to $45 a case since February 1, and romaine lettuce shipping point prices have risen 350% to $45 a case over that period. Prices have retreated slightly in recent days, but consumers, grocers, food distribution companies, and restaurant buyers should expect elevated prices to remain in place until the industry moves back to Salinas in three weeks.
Since March 1st, minimum daily temperatures in Yuma have increased, and the risk of frost has faded, leading to better conditions for the remaining harvests in Yuma. However, because a lot of damage is already done, the weekly fluctuations in total pounds will continue to cause elevated markets just as salad season starts. Demand for salad typically picks up in the spring, at about the same time of the transition from Arizona to California.
With the weekly inconsistent harvest volumes from Yuma persisting, market pricing looks to remain at a significantly elevated level, similar to the challenges seen when the industry transitioned from Salinas to Yuma in November of last year. Similar to the last transition, buyers of leafy greens should expect a challenging few weeks with prices eroding, albeit slower than their rapid increase, once the industry returns to Salinas.
You can view Gro’s consolidated table of volume and pricing data for the full season for both romaine and iceberg lettuces.