While planted fall vegetable acreage in the Imperial Valley and elsewhere in the low desert is similar to last year, planted winter vegetable acreage in the Yuma Valley of Arizona is off as of late August by as much as 10 percent. Sources say growers are waiting to see the full extent of a tenuous labor and wholesale market situation before committing their land to vegetables.

“The markets are soft and that’s what’s dictating the front end of our production right now,” said Kurt Nolte, vegetable crops farm advisor at the University of Arizona Yuma Ag Center.

“I think a lot of these guys are hedging their bets, putting some ground away. Should the price or labor situation develop into something lucrative, they could later reclaim that ground for production,” he said. “They may just be delaying their planting in some of their fields until they get a clearer picture of how the season is going to develop.”

Prices on leaf and head lettuce have been at or near production costs this spring and summer, although by the end of August had firmed considerably. Coastal romaine was moving slowly, with variable quality and prices on mostly sized 24 cartons at $12 to $14. Broccoli prices out of the Salinas/Watsonville region settled at about $14 to $17 on active movement toward the end of the season. They had dropped to less than $5 however, at peak movement.

Concerns that there may not be enough hands to thin and harvest the crop this winter are compounding the concern as the vegetable deal winds up in the Salinas Valley and moves through the Central San Joaquin Valley and down into the desert.

UCCE Entomology Farm Advisor Eric Natwick in Imperial County said labor shortages have put increasing pressure on growers the last couple of years and growers have had a hard time throughout the desert getting enough help to thin and harvest crops.