Church Brothers Farms' Jason Lathos Discusses Transitioning Lettuce Crops
SALINAS, CA - When you hear Mother Nature knocking at your door, you better answer quickly, because she’s a lady you don’t want to keep waiting. Weather changes can happen at the drop of a hat, and while growers need to duck and weave the whole year ‘round, transitioning crops to new regions can be especially tricky. Like many growers, Church Brothers Farms is transitioning out of Salinas, California, to Yuma, Arizona, and like many, the weather has been a major factor in timing and supply.
“We're not playing in a dome, we're playing with Mother Nature,” Jason Lathos, Manager of Commodities, told me. “Mother Nature is our opponent—we're playing in an outdoor arena. Weather has been a factor for the last four lettuce markets in the last year, and that's exactly what's happening now.”
Church Brothers Farms has seen a gap in its transition between growing areas, where one area finishes early, and another finishes late, which Jason says comes as no surprise, given the mercurial weather this season. The Salinas Valley saw a wave of abnormally warm weather, resulting in an early finish to the grower’s Salinas crop. At the same time, in Yuma two significant storms swept the region, bringing cold weather and unfavorable conditions with them, including rain, hail, and lightning.
Church Brothers Farms had intended to start at the end of October, but that start got pushed back two weeks. Contending with the weather can require some predictive thinking, and with the Salinas crop finishing early, and the Yuma crop starting late, choosing the right varieties is key.
“Iceberg lettuce is basically a three-month crop, and you're planning the varieties based off of normal weather patterns,” Jason explained. “So, if you had a cold-weather variety planted, but when you're getting close to harvest it's hot, you have the wrong variety. Mother Nature is always the key. You never know what those crops are going to do.”
Consumer buying trends are another thing that can wax and wane with changing temperatures, according to Jason, so buyers can expect to see a decrease in short-term demand as 70 percent of the U.S. experiences temperatures of 32 degrees or lower. Keeping one eye on the sky and the other on the market is critical for balancing growing capabilities with demand for products.
“You try to connect all the dots, and the next thing you know, you were right or you were wrong,” Jason commented. “But for the short term, it's been very active. For the long term, to be determined. Keep an eye on Mother Nature.”
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