A slight delay in planting this year due to hurricane activity has not resulted in any problems for Florida lettuce growers. They are currently seeing good production and excellent quality from their winter crops
“We grow Iceberg, Romaine, and Boston lettuce as well as some of the chicory varieties,” said Toby Basore, of TKM Bengard Farms in Belle Glade Florida. “The season began in the middle of November and extends through to April. We had a little problem at the beginning of the season as we had delayed planting by about a week due to the pair of hurricanes that affected the area. But now we are seeing good, beautiful produce and good yields also. The market has been stable and we are seeing a steady demand.”
An eye on the cold
Recent cold weather has affected parts of Florida in recent days. Temperatures have been approaching freezing in lettuce growing areas, but Basore said that it has not reached the critical levels that would cause damage to lettuce.
“There was cold weather last night and is also forecast for tonight,” he said. “Temperatures have been in the lower 30s across much of the region which has been affecting some other crops like sweet corn and green beans. However, lettuce is a cold tolerant crop, particularly Iceberg lettuce, unless you get a real hard freeze. The only effect so far is that it has kept us out of the fields in the early mornings.”
Basore noted that if a hard freeze were to occur, there is little that lettuce growers can do to protect their crops. “If severe cold is forecast, we can raise the water level in the ditches and canals which helps to maintain a higher temperature. We would also stop cultivating to prevent the soil from being disturbed, retaining as much warmth as possible.”
Organic trial on the cards
TKM Bengard Farms are planning on introducing an organic line from next year. The company is doing trials this year to determine the suitability of production from next season. Demand is good, and they see that transitioning part of their line to organic will be beneficial for the company.
“This year, we are trialing organic lettuce and from next year will be planting production acres,” Basore said. “We’re seeing good demand for organic lettuce, largely driven by millennials who are looking for more organic produce. Growing organic does carry its risks, especially when it comes to controlling diseases and pests. However, new products are continually being introduced for such measures that are certified accordingly. This reduces those risks and will encourage more growers to expand into that field.”