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Volatile California weather upsets lettuce market

With more than 90 percent of lettuce sold in the U.S coming from California, it is important to understand how recent fluctuation in weather patterns affect the supply and pricing.

Head lettuce accounts for one of the three largest vegetable crops in the United States, surpassed only by onions. Between April to October the majority of production originates from the Salinas – Watsonville region of California.

Agtools Inc. BB #:355102 tracked shipping and retail price of Iceberg lettuce over the last three years, 2019-2021 to see what patterns were taking place.

Shipping Price – 24s

Beginning in Q2, 2021 shipping prices remained relatively flat, at times falling below the previous two year’s level. By the end of October 2021, we see a spike in shipping prices which results in a record shipping price of $50 per carton, setting a precedent for an all-time high.

Retail Price – per head of lettuce

This high price correlated with a jump in retail pricing directly impacting the consumer at an all time high of $1.60 a head of lettuce. As one of the key vegetables in retail and foodservice, this price increase has significant ramifications with both sectors.

Weather & Iceberg Lettuce Supply (2016-2021)
The Agtools weather tracker shows ideal growing conditions for Iceberg Lettuce in the Salinas – Watsonville region.

In comparing the 2018 to 2019 supply, the 2019 season begins with higher temperatures, reflected in the red shading vs. 2018 which had a steady temperature range of cooler weather contributing to an increased crop yield, 17% percent.

Following 2018, crop yield tends to decline as temperatures increase, as shown in the weather tracker below. 2020 and 2021 are showing a warming trend with significantly more warmer days, as reflected in the red shading.

These hotter days are the least ideal temperatures for growing conditions leading to less yield or decrease in supply for Iceberg lettuce.

This shows a correlation with higher pricing due to a decrease in supply to market.

 

Through her time as a data specialist with government and industry boards, Juanita Gaglio of Agtools Inc. developed a specialty with syndicated data, both in reading and interpreting it.