Rising costs, tight water strain vegetable production

A triple whammy of rising production costs, reduced water, and flat markets has led to acreage declines for some California Central Coast lettuce and cole crops this year, according to pest control advisers who monitor fields in the area.

One PCA said his growers in Monterey County intended to plant lettuce on perhaps only three-fourths the acreage of previous years, as they contend with cost spikes for petroleum-based products — from fuel to drip tubing to fertilizer — and a dwindling water supply.

Rainfall in the Salinas Valley through early July was less than half the normal amount, reflecting the driest spring on record across many vegetable-producing, and putting continued strain on deep wells. Rising fuel costs are also making it more expensive to access those deep water tables. Higher petroleum prices are affecting petroleum-based fertilizers, costs for which PCAs say have doubled in the last year, further straining crop input budgets.

Markets meanwhile remained flat but steady for cool season vegetables. In early July, on-board prices for central coast broccoli rose slightly to $12 to $13 on moderate demand, and head and leaf lettuce prices were hovering at $6.50 to $7.50 a 24-count carton.

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