Desert Lettuce Shows Good Quality, But Challenges Ahead for Industry

Brian GermanIndustry, Leafy Greens

Desert lettuce crops appear to be a bit ahead of schedule as a result of recent weather patterns. Vice President of Operations for Markon Cooperative Inc., Mark Shaw explained that the growing regions in California and Arizona received about a quarter inch of rain in December. The rain was followed up by freezing temperatures in January, causing damage in head lettuce and leaf lettuce. Since then, things have been on track for a positive growing season.

Desert Lettuce

“We ended up seeing the blister and the peel starting the second week of January and we are just now seeing that epidermal blister and discolored peel leaving the product. Now we have healthy, good-looking product that we’re shipping out of the desert,” Shaw explained. “Markets, unfortunately for the growers, will be depressed meaning prices are low because we are going to be in an oversupply situation.”

A substantial amount of desert lettuce showed varying levels of epidermal blistering and peeling, but conditions have improved. Shaw described lettuce products as having a “positive trajectory” in terms of quality moving forward. However, the oversupply has created issues for growers having to sell product below cost in some instance. The oversupply has been compounded by shifts in demand, which has been significantly impacted by weather patterns and how the affects consumer choices.

“We’ve had some pretty cold and serious weather patterns in the Northeast and the Midwest. When you end up with weather patterns like that a lot of people aren’t going out to buy fresh vegetables,” said Shaw. “They’re kind of hunkering down in their house and enjoying a can of soup or making something nice and hearty and warm. So that slows the demand for product coming out of the desert like nice fresh leafy greens, and that’s another area that we’re running into right now.”

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West