What’s going on with the lettuce market? Why are broccoli supplies suddenly so hard to source? What’s causing industry-wide shortages and sky-rocketing prices?
Mother Nature has dealt commodity growers a double hand this season and it looks like it will be some time before supply levels return to normal. The problems started back in late November and early December, when abnormally high temperatures increased growth in the Arizona/California desert growing regions. When items like lettuces, leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower get an unexpected growth spurt, suppliers are forced to harvest them before scheduled (for instance, this season growers had to harvest product in December that was meant for January). Fields are then left with immature plants that are not ready to be picked; this is what we call a harvesting gap.
The second part of the problem occurred in late December and January, when freezing temperatures nearly stopped growth and prolonged the harvesting gap, as well as caused quality problems that will only increase as the plants become larger. In particular, epidermal peeling and blistering, yellowing, and dehydration have forced growers to peel outer/damaged lettuce leaves and caused lower-than-normal weights throughout the industry. In broccoli crops, pin rot and purple shading are also reducing available stocks.
The problem is compounded because processors need to use more product to achieve the required volume for pre-cut packs. Demand starts to accelerate and prices climb in response.
It’s been a tough couple of months, but warmer weather is on the horizon. Once growth is back on track, supplies will increase and the market will finally settle. We look forward to a decline in quality problems and an increase in overall supplies—until then Markon will continue to closely monitor the situation and share information.