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El Nino Effects Lettuce Harvest

April 21, 1998

SALINAS, Calif. (AP) _ The heavy rains have stopped but the effects of El Nino storms on supermarket produce have only begun.

Growers in California, the nation’s top farm state, say incessant rains earlier this year sharply reduced the supply of lettuce _ and the shortage will be a problem until at least the middle of May.

``El Nino weather conditions out here have created a little havoc with the supply situation,″ grower-shipper Frank Pinney said last week. ``We expect a roller-coaster effect for the next four to five weeks with supply.″

California’s planting season, December through spring, was interrupted by storms that drenched the region in January and February.

``Guys couldn’t get the tractors in the field to do proper fertilization, aeration and cultivation,″ Pinney said.

In some instances, farmers couldn’t plant for about three weeks.

Shortages will be felt especially among loose leaf lettuce, growers said.

``Romaine, red leaf and green leaf are in very short supply,″ said Steve Adlesh, sales director at Apio, a grower and lettuce shipper in northern Santa Barbara County. ``This is only going to maintain itself for the next two weeks. By the beginning of May, it should improve, but it will be fragmented as far as the supply goes for the next month.″

Just how short the supply will be remains in question, but Adlesh said it could be as low as 50 percent of normal during some weeks.

The price already has doubled.

A box of 24 heads of lettuce, which usually costs $8 to $10, ranged from $16 to $25 Friday, Adlesh said.

Although it’s difficult to translate the increases into supermarket prices, Adlesh said he thinks lettuce that typically costs 60 to 70 cents a head would be $1 or more.

There are problems other than missing planting season.

``Yields will be off due to fungus and other moisture-related diseases,″ Pinney said. ``Plants in general will be weaker with more defects and they will have shorter shelf life.″

Growers said they hope the supply will begin leveling out as the peak summer season begins in the Salinas Valley. But the effects of earlier losses won’t be forgotten quickly.

``I have never seen a year like this before and I think it goes across the board for other farmers,″ said Pinney, who’s been in the lettuce business for 25 years.


TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ The once-pesky and nearly unstoppable gypsy moth that devoured thousands of acres of trees and shrubs across New Jersey is under control and should pose no major problems this spring, agriculture officials say.

Next month, aerial spraying will begin on only 760 acres in three counties, the smallest area since the gypsy moth program began in 1970, said John Kegg of the state Agriculture Department.

The spraying program, coupled with a potent fungus brought to the United States from Japan, has reduced the gypsy moth population in New Jersey, Kegg said. ``It looks like it’s not a big pest any more.″

This year, the state predicts, gypsy moths will defoliate 2,000 to 5,000 acres, compared with 28,000 acres two years ago.

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