Slow start for coastal veggies

Cool weather led to a slow start for coastal vegetable crops, as low soil temperatures through April and into May compounded growth problems for early romaine lettuce, strawberries, and other crops.

Soil temperatures that would normally average 62 to 64 degrees were reported about 5 degrees below that.

“It’s been a very cool season so far. We had two days of warm weather but other than that, it’s been cold,” said Gene Spencer, an independent PCA and agronomist in Monterey County.

According to recent USDA estimates, total harvested acreage for fresh spring vegetables was expected to be off by about 7,000 acres, or about 3 percent, to just over 200,000 acres. Acreage declines for cabbage, cauliflower, head lettuce, and fresh tomatoes offset increases for broccoli and cucumbers.

While temperatures were beginning to warm up, PCAs said some fields appear to be as much as a week or two behind but catching up to normal. Some harvest overlaps created a flush of leaf lettuce that softened markets, but sources hoped that drop would be temporary as the pace evened out.

At the same time, the low temperatures helped keep most insect pressures at bay, and the dry spring also suppressed disease pressures that might otherwise start to appear.

The mild winter did cause some flare-ups of two-spotted spider mite early on, but early applications from a variety of new products seem to have controlled the problem.

Warm weather pests like lygus and thrips were steadily increasing as temperatures rose slightly. Typical problems, including cabbage aphid and worms, which PCAs say they might normally expect this time of year, don’t so far seem to be a problem.

Looper populations were about average but PCAs were starting to keep a close eye on it. Many early cole crops got by with few applications, though PCAs expected spray schedules to pick up as crops progressed into June.

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