The market on organic lettuce was strong this week trading in the high $20s, largely because of the same issue plaguing all California production ---heavy spring rains which delayed plantings and caused production gaps moving into June.
Henry Dill of Pacific International Marketing in Salinas said the issue is even more acute for organic crops because there is a smaller pool of land to choose from. In the spring, when the rains made it impossible to plant in one area or another, conventional land has more options, which allows for more solutions.
Dill said organic iceberg lettuce is a more difficult crop to grow than most lettuce varieties, thus it tends to operate continuously in a demand-exceeds-supply situation. “Even when it’s at its lowest f.o.b. price that is still going to be in the high teens. The current market is strong but not out of the ordinary,” he said.
Doug Classen of The Nunes Company, Salinas, expects the market to stay relatively strong on organic lettuce for the next couple of weeks, but added that the spring planting issues are starting to work themselves out. “We’re starting to see normal production patterns and normal supplies. Asparagus is tight as production winds down and celery is still strong but it has come off its highs,” Classen said.
He said there has been less fluctuation in price because of the increase in supplies in many different organic leaf lettuce items over the past week.
Dill agreed, noting that across the board quality is improving on most Salinas organic crops. He said organic cauliflower, broccoli, romaine and the leaf lettuces have seen some increases in supplies and subsequently price pressure has been alleviated a bit. Dill said both conventional and organic celery are still very scarce.
Tom Deardorff of Deardorff Family Farms, an organic celery specialist, predicted the current easing on the market will be short-lived. “There’s another gap coming up. On the organic side, we are going to see very strong prices for another four weeks,” he said.
While the $50-plus market for conventional celery is unique, Deardorff said the organic celery has hit that stratosphere in the past.
Dill said, in general, demand for organic vegetables is going to outstrip supplies this summer. But taking the long view, relief is on the way. “I see a lot of ground out there being transitioned,” he said. “In the next two to three years, I expect supplies to grow 25 to 35 percent.”