Sample production costs recently developed by University of California Cooperative Extension specialists suggest breakeven costs per carton for wrapped iceberg and romaine lettuces on the Central Coast.

For districts in northern Monterey County and southern Santa Cruz County those are $8.99 on 850 cartons per acre for wrapped iceberg and $7.72 on 900 cartons for romaine. For districts in southern Monterey County they are $8.22 on 850 cartons per acre for wrapped iceberg and $6.99 on 900 cartons for romaine.

(Accompanying tables on Page 19 detail the per-acre costs and net returns above cash costs.)

Laura Tourte and Richard Smith, farm advisors for Santa Cruz County and Monterey County, respectively, did the research during the 2000-2001 season for the two sets of profiles.

Tourte reported the findings of the survey funded by the California Lettuce Research Board at the board's recent annual meeting in Sacramento. The survey of growers, packers, and others in the industry updates a UC study made in 1992.

Notes variations

Noting the figures are not applicable to all operations, she said, “There will be variations between growers and districts, but we tried to cast a broad net to capture costs that are as realistic as possible.

“Growers we worked with suggested that we prepare one version for northern Monterey County and southern Santa Cruz County and another for southern Monterey County.”

The reason is cash overhead costs, including land rents and water, are substantially higher in northern Monterey County and southern Santa Cruz County. Annual, per acre rents, for example, range from $800 in southern Monterey County to $2,400 in the northern part of the county. The analysis assumes two crops per acre per year.

Tourte said values of wrapped iceberg lettuce have been in a dramatic decline in Monterey County since 1995. The average price of $9.78 of 1995 shrank to $5.87 by 1999. However, romaine prices averaging $7.12 in Monterey County in 1995 were $7.78 five years later.

Yield for wrapped iceberg ranges from 700 to 1,000 24-count, 42-pound cartons per acre, while prices range from $5 to $14 per carton, depending on market conditions.

Yield for romaine ranges from 400 to 1,000, 24-count, 35-pound cartons per acre, with prices in the same range as wrapped iceberg. The two carton sizes are the most commonly used.

Tourte said the study assumes a direct-seeded crop with pelletized seed using a precision planter on 40-inch, double-line beds. Although both types of lettuce are also grown on 80-inch beds, costs of those configurations are not in the study.

Tables for Iceberg Lettuce

Table 1. Summary of Total Cash Costs/Crop/Acre For Wrapped Iceberg Lettuce*
In Monterey & Santa Cruz Counties - 2000-2001
Total Cost ($/Crop/Acre)
Cost Category N. Monterey/S. Santa Cruz S. Monterey
Land Preparation 415 415
Cultural 1,090 1,129
Cash Overhead 1,251 554
Harvest 4,888 4,888
Total Cash Costs/Crop/Acre 7,644 6,986
Total Cash Costs/Carton 8.99 8.22
*Costs will vary depending on many factors including individual grower, production location, land rent, water costs, material inputs, and weather conditions.
Table 2. Net Returns Above Cash Costs for Wrapped Iceberg Lettuce 2000-2001
North Monterey & South Santa Cruz Counties
Price/Carton ($)
Cartons/Acre 6.00 7.00 8.00 9.00 10.00 Breakeven $/Carton
700 -2,581 -1,661 -1,181 -481 219 9.69
800 -2,556 -1,758 -956 -158 644 9.20
850 -2,544 -1,694 -844 6 856 8.99
900 -2,531 -1,631 -731 169 1,069 8.81
1,000 -2,506 -1,506 -506 494 1,494 8.51
Table 3. Net Returns Above Cash Costs for Wrapped Iceberg Lettuce 2000-2001
South Monterey County
Price/Carton ($)
Cartons/Acre 6.00 7.00 8.00 9.00 10.00 Breakeven $/Carton
700 -1,923 -1,223 -523 177 877 8.75
800 -1,896 -1,098 -298 502 1,302 8.37
850 -1,886 -1,036 -186 664 1,514 8.22
900 -1,873 -973 -73 827 1,727 8.08
1,000 -1,848 -848 152 1,152 2,152 7.85

Tables for Romaine Lettuce

Table 4. Summary of Total Cash Costs/Crop/Acre for Romaine Lettuce*
In Monterey & Santa Cruz Counties - 2000-2001
Total Cost ($/Crop/Acre)
Cost Category N. Monterey/S. Santa Cruz S. Monterey
Land Preparation 415 415
Cultural 1,012 1,050
Cash Overhead 1,243 547
Harvest 4,275 4,275
Total Cash Costs/Crop/Acre 6,945 6,287
Total Cash Costs/Carton 7.72 6.99
*Costs will vary depending on many factors including individual grower, production location, land rent, water costs, material inputs, and weather conditions.
Table 5. Net Returns Above Cash Costs for Romaine Lettuce 2000-2001
North Monterey & South Santa Cruz Counties
Price/Carton ($)
Cartons/Acre 6.00 7.00 8.00 9.00 10.00 Breakeven $/Carton
600 -1,920 -1,320 -720 -120 480 9.20
700 -1,795 -1,095 -395 305 1,005 8.56
800 -1,670 -870 -70 730 1,530 8.09
900 -1,545 -645 255 1,155 2,055 7.72
1,000 -1,420 -420 580 1,580 2,580 7.42
Table 6. Net Returns Above Cash Costs for Romaine Lettuce 2000-2001
South Monterey County
Price/Carton ($)
Cartons/Acre 6.00 7.00 8.00 9.00 10.00 Breakeven $/Carton
600 -1,262 -662 -62 538 1,138 8.10
700 -1,137 -437 263 963 1,663 7.62
800 -1,012 -212 588 1,388 2,188 7.27
900 -887 13 913 1,813 2,713 6.99
1,000 -762 238 1,238 2,238 3,238 6.76