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The gambler’s crop is on a roll

Lettuce is sometimes called a gambler’s crop. If so, it’s been on a roll.

Currently, iceberg prices are at around $44 per case (price at shipping point), 10 percent below previous levels (October 27 prices were around $50.75), but nearly double the 10-year average for this time of year.

Romaine prices are $35 per case, up 70 percent since October 18, and 25 percent above average, according to Gro Intelligence.

Lettuce prices are expected to remain strong into mid-December.

Currently, the Yuma, AZ area is coming into production as Salinas, CA is going out. This has dampened prices somewhat for iceberg, but romaine demand remains strong.

It’s unusual for price trends for iceberg and romaine to diverge. It’s happened in part because growers reduced romaine plantings in response to an anticipated drop in consumption as a result of the food-borne illness scares of recent years, particularly during seasonal transition times (such as now). But demand did not drop to the degree expected.

Concerns about supply center around below-average temperatures in both the Salinas and Yuma areas over the past couple of months. Yuma early season lettuce tends to thrive in hot temperatures.

Labor availability is also an issue, as it is in many sectors of the produce industry and indeed nationwide.

Thomas Industry Updates featured an item on seven things that might be missing from this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

The list includes not only the turkey itself, but cranberry sauce and even stuffing. In the fresh produce area, potatoes and sweet potatoes are a worry: South Carolina sweet potato growers have reported difficulties in finding labor.

As for pumpkin, Illinois, which produces 80 percent of the nation’s supply, was hit with a pumpkin fungus. Lettuce doesn’t make it on this list, no doubt because few people associate salad with Thanksgiving dinner.

But even the most loyal produce fan may not agree with this tip for an alternative to the big bird: “Go meatless—macaroni and cheese in acorn squash bowls is a scene-stealer.”

Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.