Lettuce is one of the top ten vegetables cultivated in the United States and for good reason. Romaine, iceberg, leaf and butterhead types of lettuce are staples in refrigerators around the world. But the crop has experienced devastation nationwide with the emergence of the deadly Bacterial Leaf Spot (BLS), a disease caused by a pathogen known as Xanthomonas campestris pv. vitians (Xcv).
Just as in he previous season, this year seems to be a good year for lettuce producers. “There is a very good flow for all species: lettuce, batavia, oak leaves but also chicory (curly/escarole),” explains Olivier Barlaguet of the cooperative group Saveurs des Clos. “Prices have been good since November. Our clients are selling lettuce at around 70 euro cents [0.78 USD] a head.”
The Brazilian authorities have announced the launch of a new species of lettuce that is more resistant to high temperatures and that has a harvest time that is one week earlier. The announcement was made by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Agency (Empraba), which will launch the BRS Mediterranea lettuce on April 24, whose main characteristic is its tolerance to early blooming caused by heat, so its harvest lasts, on average, one week less than the other varieties.
The weather conditions in the formerly "safe" growing areas of Italy and Spain are becoming increasingly extreme. Italy is struggling with considerable snowfall, parts of Spain have to deal with frost. Even if it only turns out to be a short period of frost or snow, the consequences are already noticeable within wholesale. Regarding the current harvest, there are quality and yield losses, especially for the vulnerable leafy lettuces. Growers and retailers are worrying about the remainder of the harvest.
The dry spell hasn't yet taken hold over the open ground lettuce crops at Lucassen Agri Cultuur in Sevenum. The predicted heat is a challenge, says John Lucassen, responsible for sales. "The lettuce is growing well at the moment, the dry weather is under control so far. It is a lot more work, as we continually have to irrigate. If the temperatures rise above 30 degrees soon, we will have to deal with sprouting in the lettuce."
Lettuce is being flown in from the US, and imported from Spain and Poland as soaring temperatures increase demand but hit crops in the UK. Tony Clemence, general manager of the Bristol branch of the wholesaler Total Produce, said the company was having to import about 30% of its iceberg lettuce and 40% of its celery from Spain and Poland when all supplies usually come from the UK at this time of year.
The dry weather and high temperatures that are being recorded in central and northern Europe since the month of May are causing major issues in the production of crops like lettuce and other leafy vegetables. Large distribution chains in these countries are trying to get their supply wherever they can and have also been calling at the doors of Spanish growers, who don't usually schedule the production of their crops for these dates.
Bernard Mascot founded the company Food Development Services (FDS) in 2006. The company markets the products of different producers. One of the producers is Bernard's son, Nicolas, who produces organic lettuce, tomatoes, and aubergines on a 12 hectare farm called Biomajolan. According to Bernard, this year hasn’t been easy so far: "The climatic conditions are not controllable."
Just as in the rest of Europe, vegetable production, especially for greens like iceberg lettuce and baby spinach, have been hit but the unpredictable weather this spring and summer. The weather has been really difficult this season, with temperatures around 29 during the day and dropping down to 10 degrees (or lower) at night.
After the heavy rain in Spain last month, the supply of outdoor vegetables is limited. “We are located in the Tarragona region, and we have had no water problems here, but all of the vegetables were flooded in the area from Cartagena to Murcia. I expect that there will be major problems in the long run, when the young plants come into production,” says Rien Paans from Verfru Europe.
The Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) stated that the crops in Zacatecas, especially of lettuce and peach, had been affected by the cold weather conditions experienced in the state. According to the report, the cold weather affected 300 hectares devoted to peach in the municipality of Fresnillo. Fortunately, the crop was affected at a time when there was only a 5 percent bloom. Producers, however, believe it is still possible to rescue the crop with a new flowering. Based on data from previous years and the weather conditions this year, producers also expect fruit sizes will be bigger at the end of the season.
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