YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A virus affecting the lettuce fields of California has created national and local lettuce shortages and high inflation. We spoke with growers in California and local businesses on how the shortage has affected them and us here locally.
The lettuce shortage is affecting the nation, starting with the growers who are struggling to keep up with demand. Chris Reade, vice president of Produce West in Salinas Valley, California, says from April through October, the Salinas Valley supplies around 80 percent of the nation’s vegetables.
“During that given period, there’s anywhere from, I would say, 85 to 90 percent of the iceberg lettuce and romaine that’s being shipped throughout the United States is coming from the Salinas Valley,” he said.
Reade says the thrips virus has affected many lettuce fields in California, creating nationwide supply problems. Thrips are tiny insects that are spread by the wind. Researchers believe heat and drought caused the bugs to migrate from the hills into the Salinas Valley.
“They basically just bite the plant and when they do, they inject a virus that basically just kills the plant,” Reade said.
He says growers have lost 70 to 80 percent of their crops.
“On average for iceberg lettuce, a grower will get about 800 cartons per acre. OK, so with this virus, they’re getting anywhere from 100 to 200 cartons per acre,” Reade said.
This has created a nationwide lettuce shortage and an all-time high in prices.
Joe Deniro is a produce buyer for Deniro Quality Foods in Youngstown. He says previously, he was able to get a case of iceberg lettuce for $40, but now, he is paying over $100.
“There’s 24 heads to a case. Typically that’s weighing anywhere between 35 to 45 pounds, but right now, you’re lucky if it’s 20 pounds,” Deniro said.
Deniro Quality Foods is Sweet Melissa’s in Boardman’s lettuce supplier. Owner Melissa Poland says 75 percent of her menu items are salads.
“People come in here for the salads. That’s what I sell, that’s what we’re known for. That’s a lot of lettuce that we go through. We go through about 12 to 18 cases on a daily basis,” she said.
The low availability of green leaf lettuce has caused Sweet Melissa’s to use an arcadian blend rather than their typical green leaf lettuce. Poland says she has been avoiding raising prices but may not be able to for much longer.
“Anybody that knows me knows how much this bothers me. I have done everything I possibly can not to raise these prices but it’s getting to a point now where my hands are tied,” she said.
Poland says the salad prices will rise by $1 to $1.50.