What it takes to provide year-round lettuce
We often use the statistic that 75% of the nation’s lettuce and leafy greens are grown in California (USDA 2012), but within the golden state – what exactly does that look like?
According to a crop statistic report issued by the California Department of Food and Agriculture for 2014/2015 California farming encompasses over 75,000 farms and 25 million acres of land with a value of $54 billion. Within those impressive numbers, lettuce was the #6 commodity in the state valued at over two billion dollars.
Where Lettuce Comes From
Within California, there are three main growing regions. The Central Coast, which includes both the Salinas Valley and the Santa Maria/Oxnard region, is the largest with 75% of production for the state, the Desert region is the second largest with 19% of production and the Central Valley – which acts as a seasonal transition region between the other two – produces the final 6%.
County by county
Monterey County is, by far, the largest county of leafy greens production. Located on the Central Coast, Monterey County produced over 100,000 acres of lettuce valued at $1.5 billion in 2015. The next biggest lettuce producer is Imperial County. In 2015 Imperial County produced over 30,000 acres valued at over $2 million.
Year Round Availability
Lettuce is produced year-round in California, but this crop does demand good weather. Ideal conditions for leafy green crops are highs in the 60’s or 70’s and lows in the 40’s. Because of this, the Central Coast is a huge growing region that produces lettuce between the months of April – November. Winter in the hot Desert Region is perfect for leafy greens from November – March. And the Central Valley covers the transition period in Spring and Fall.
For this blog we focused only on iceberg and leaf (including romaine) lettuce. There are 14 different leafy greens covered by the LGMA and many of our members grow other crops. So let’s not forget all the spinach, kale and cabbage growers. Areas like Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Huron and too many others to mention are also contributors to the state’s production of leafy greens.
California is not the only source of leafy greens in the U.S. Arizona is another substantial producer (they even have their own LGMA program there). It is estimated that combined the two states produce nearly 95% of US leafy green crops.
The Most Important Thing
It’s wonderful that California provides the climate and soil that are necessary for leafy greens farming, but perhaps the most important part of the equation is the people who grow the crops. There are about 100 shippers of leafy greens in the state (who are members of the LGMA). We estimate that they have somewhere between 300 – 400 growers they work with. There are thousands of people working on harvest crews any given day. What that amounts to is about 50,000,000 servings of nutritious leafy greens that consumers enjoy each year.