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Chilly temperatures are almost behind us, but it’s still too early to rule out the impact of cold weather on romaine lettuce. We take care to ensure that our premium romaine hearts maintain their outstanding quality regardless of the season so that we can always supply our very best to foodservice operations across the nation and Canada.
Cold Weather Challenges
As one of California’s leading produce companies, we understand how to nurture romaine from seed to harvest. There are a number of factors that add up to a healthy crop, and we can control most of them. The right consistency and slope of field soil creates beds that encourage strong germination. Seed variety selection, crop rotation and careful irrigation all play vital roles in the production of our romaine lettuce hearts.
One thing we cannot control is the weather. While our wonderful California climate is one of the best in the world for produce growing, it can be challenging. Folks from out of state are often surprised to learn that freezing temperatures during our winters are not uncommon. Even as the season comes to an end, one cold snap can threaten our romaine lettuce crop. We meet dry spells head on with changes in irrigation patterns, but it’s difficult to protect romaine from the effects of a hard freeze.
Harvest Schedule Adjustments
While the crisp, fresh hearts of romaine that we produce year around are hearty vegetables, they can be affected by extreme temperatures — both cold and hot. In winter, when a spell of cold weather settles in, freezing conditions can cause the inner cells of a romaine leaf to expand, which shows up on the outer surface of the leaf as blistering. The blister eventually pops, allowing air in and causing the exposed inner surface to oxidize and take on a brown appearance. The skin of the popped blister also becomes brown and ragged. Eventually the damaged areas can start to decay.
Also, when romaine heads freeze, this slows down our harvesting operation, because we must wait until the heads begin to thaw before we can harvest them. Harvesting before thawing can cause further damage. When we are able to harvest, we try to remove as many damaged leaves as possible before packing, further slowing down the operation. But, we do this to ensure the quality of the romaine we ship to market. With harvest delays and the discarding of so much damaged leaves, romaine supply will be reduced, even though demand may stay the same. The result is often a temporary uptick in price.
A Two-Valley Strategy
We don’t surrender to cold weather here in California. During the winter, we move our operations to the Imperial Valley and take advantage of the warmer desert air. This transition also helps sustain our fields by allowing the soil to rest between seasons and replenish its natural fertility. It’s about time for us to return to the Salinas Valley for spring planting, but chilly temperatures can still surprise us before the transition.
If the cold does sneak up on us, we have to be patient. We’re committed to always providing the highest quality romaine hearts, so we take our time. During harvest, our crews carefully remove damaged leaves and inspect every piece of produce to make sure that it measures up to our high standards. This results in smaller lettuce heads and lower yields, but we know that we’re producing the very best that we can despite the cold weather.
Looking Forward to Spring
As a produce buyer, you understand the seasonal changes that affect the availability and pricing of a wide range of vegetables. With spring just around the corner, we know that you join us in looking forward to another bountiful crop of our premium romaine hearts. You can always depend on us here at Hitchcock Farms to deliver our very best to you all year-round regardless of the weather.
Karen Campbell brings solid industry expertise to her role as general manager for Hitchcock Farms. Her foodservice career started after her graduation from CSU Fresno with a degree in Agricultural Business Management. Beginning in 1994, Karen put her skills to work in both sales and business management for a local grower-shipper company.
Karen joined the team at Hitchcock Farms in 2015 where she’s successfully filled and expanded the role of general manager. She also enjoys working closely with local and national chefs and foodservice professionals developing new ideas that keep the industry moving forward.