The prices of both romaine and iceberg lettuce have tripled in many stores around Northern California after crops grown in the Salinas Valley were destroyed by the mid-June heatwave.
Heads of lettuce wilted significantly in the extended heatwave the week of June 9, with some parts of the Salinas region hitting triple-digit temperatures. As KSBW reports after talking with local farmers, the heat left 20 to 30 percent of the lettuce crop unusable, which has meant that many big-name buyers from the farms are getting far less than they've ordered — and leading to higher prices.
Leaf lettuce is the number-one crop in Monterey County, as the county's Farm Bureau reported in both 2017 and 2018. Romaine lettuce crops actually decreased around 12 percent between the two years due to the well publicized E. coli outbreak, but 2018's lettuce production still accounted for $733 million in value for farmers. Strawberries are the county's second biggest crop, with a value of $698 million.
The coastal climate around Salinas typically makes it ideal for lettuce production, but some years and some planting periods get surprises from the weather. Jason Lathros of Churches Brothers Farms tells KSBW, "There's nothing you can do. That's Mother Nature. We play in an outdoor arena."
Lettuce production was also impacted by a particularly rainy May, which slowed down picking by about half, says Lathros. And picking all over the county has been impacted in the short term by President Trump's threats of ICE raids — one field supervisor reported that 15 fieldworkers failed to show up last week due to fears of a raid, according to Monterey County Weekly.