There is always a degree of uncertainty that comes into play two times every year as western vegetable production transitions from the desert to the coastal regions and back again. While the crop planners do their best to ramp up production in one region as it declines in the other, Mother Nature can’t always be predicted.
Jason Lathos, Manager of Commodities, Church Brothers Farms
Jason Lathos, manager of commodities for Church Brothers Farms in Salinas, CA, said that supply uncertainty cuts across all veg crops in both organic and conventional production. After all, the weather doesn’t know what’s in the ground. “The desert appears to be about a week away from being done,” Lathos said on the last day of March. “The heat in the desert is speeding everything up.”
While crop planners do their best to ramp up production in one region as it declines in the other, Mother Nature can’t always be predicted.
He noted that the temperature in the most prolific desert production area was expected to rise to 89 degrees that day and hit 99 degrees by this weekend. “When you see a heat spike like that, lettuce and other vegetables come on quickly. And at the same time, we have had unseasonably cold and windy weather in Salinas. The wind chill has been especially low.”
Church Brothers Farms desert production
Lathos said there was some rain last week (March 22-29), and he does not know if there will be enough coastal supply to fill demand over the coming weeks. He did say that warm weather was in the forecast for California, and that could speed up production. The industry veteran noted that this season the demand side of the equation is just as uncertain as supply. “COVID restrictions have been relaxed, and we are seeing foodservice orders starting to spike,” he said. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen this spring.”
Lathos noted that this season the demand side of the equation is just as uncertain as supply.
He added that the fields that will be harvested in Salinas in April were planted in January when there was even more uncertainty about the opening of the country and spring demand. Every grower-shipper had to make their own determination as to how aggressive they would be on the supply side.
Lathos said the many parts of that equation—the ending of the winter deal, the available veg supply along the coast, and the all-important demand situation—will come into focus over the next few weeks. While he would not commit to a definite forecast, Lathos was leaning toward expectations that a strong market would soon prevail for the commodity vegetables, both organic and conventional.
Kim Fellom, Sales and Marketing Manager, Pacific International Marketing
Kim Fellom, sales and marketing manager for Pacific International Marketing (PIM), expressed less uncertainty about PIM’s supply situation. She noted that the transition for the company’s more than two dozen organic and conventional vegetables crops was just about completed.
Fellom said the company’s full suite of conventional and organic crops typically means there will be some gaps in some commodities, but she expects the core crops to be in good shape moving forward. “We have production in both Santa Maria and Salinas, so that gives us the capability of filling in gaps if they occur in one place or the other,” she said. “Honestly, we have been looking at trends and waiting for retail demand to fall off as foodservice opens up, but we haven’t seen it yet.”
Fellom said the company’s full suite of conventional and organic crops typically means there will be some gaps in some commodities, but she expects the core crops to be in good shape moving forward.
The PIM executive said that is a very good thing as it is much more difficult to plan for major spikes or decreases in supply and demand. She reiterated that PIM has a full program of both organic and conventional vegetables. “We have had an organic program for 25 years and are building it and watching it grow every year. Each year, we transition more land to organics, and the two programs tend to mirror each other.”
Juan Gonzalez, operations manager for Lakeside Organic Gardens, Watsonville, CA, said the organic grower-shipper was also on the verge of completing its transition from winter to spring production.
“We have had an organic program for 25 years and are building it and watching it grow every year. Each year, we transition more land to organics.” -Kim Fellom
“We have made the transition and [are] finishing up down south, although this week we will have limited harvesting due to the long Easter weekend,” he said. “We expect 100-percent production out of Watsonville in the next 10 days or so. We are gapping on celery until early July, and Brussels sprouts are looking at harvest end of June, early July. It's been a bit of a slow start on sweet baby broccoli as we just started harvesting this week.”
Dick Peixoto (Owner) and Juan Gonzalez (Operations Manager), Lakeside Organic Farms
Gonzalez noted that the company has been concentrating on getting its Watsonville workers vaccinated to create a seamless transition with no labor issues. “We are ahead of the game with our crews, who are 95-percent vaccinated, as we were fortunate to have them vaccinated early before the transition period. With the year-long pandemic, it most certainly has been one of our most difficult years for operations,” he said.