March 2012 JSS Advantage Newsletter
Lettuce for all markets and all seasons
Here are some facts about lettuce that may surprise you: It is the most valuable vegetable crop in the United States, with sales of $2.2 billion in 2010. (Fresh tomatoes were a distant second at $1.4 billion.) Lettuce alone accounts for 19% of all fresh vegetable sales in the U.S. Iceberg lettuce is still the dominant type, accounting for 53% of total lettuce sales, but its popularity has been dropping. Meanwhile other types of head lettuces and salad mixes have been steadily increasing in popularity.
Those statistics from USDA's Economic Research Service are derived from wholesale production of lettuce, 98% of which occurs in California and Arizona. Although they aren't directly relevant to local market farms, they do show the importance of lettuce to the American consumer: People want lettuce and they want it year-round.
If you have been treating lettuce as a minor crop, perhaps it's time to take another look at the possibilities for increasing production and profits. You may be able to extend your season, expand into new distribution channels, and increase market demand with new types of presentation. Johnny's has the resources to help you take your lettuce offerings to the next level. We've taken the guesswork out of growing lettuce by identifying the best varieties for each type of product head lettuce, salad mix, and microgreens. We also have the tools you need to make lettuce production efficient and profitable.
Full Size and Mini Head
Markets for head lettuce are numerous. Farmers markets, CSAs, restaurants, and supermarkets are all potential buyers for head lettuce. Johnny's research team has devised a head lettuce planting program to help you choose appropriate varieties for each season. We have decades of experience trialing lettuce varieties to identify characteristics such as heat and cold tolerance, disease resistance, and growth rate. Taking those factors into consideration, we recommend specific varieties for growing in spring, summer, and fall. The lettuce program encompasses all types and colors of head lettuce so you can cater to specific markets and trends. We suggest the best varieties of each major type of head lettuce.
An emerging trend in lettuce sales are combination packs of mini head lettuces. They are often sold in supermarkets in clamshells and to restaurants in mixed boxes. Direct market customers also will be interested in these single serving heads. Johnny's offers mini head varieties that produce fully formed but compact heads. Most are ready for harvest in about 45 days, 10-12 days faster than full head lettuce. Claremont (green) and Breen OG (red) are mini head romaines; Dancine (green) and Australe (red) are mini butterheads; Bambi and Winter Density are green mini bibs; Rhazes is an organic red mini bibb; and Baby Oakleaf is an organic green mini oakleaf.
Many full size and mini head varieties are available as pelleted seed. Johnny's offers more than 30 varieties with NOP-compliant pelleting.
Salad mix continues to be an important crop for many growers, despite being ubiquitous in supermarkets now. There's still no way a bagged salad mix can compare with the vitality and flavor of just-harvested baby leaf mix. Johnny's offers varieties specifically recommended for fast production in dense plantings.
Many experienced growers prefer to create their own signature mixes of colors and textures. They plant individual lettuce varieties, adjusting planting schedules based on experience, to allow for uniform harvest. Separate plantings allow for custom blending to meet customer preferences as well as reducing the likelihood of a total crop failure if one variety is more susceptible to disease. Johnny's offers 16 organic varieties and 7 nonorganic varieties of lettuces recommended for baby leaf production.
For growers who want a simple approach to salad mix, Johnny's has four pre-mixed lettuce mixes that we have designed to provide beautiful blends of colors, shapes, and textures. Our Encore Lettuce Mix is an all-organic option; Five Star Greenhouse Mix consists of varieties with downy mildew resistance for indoor production; Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix is our custom blend of varieties chosen for the best color even in low light conditions; Wildfire Lettuce Mix has a high percentage of red lettuces.
Micro greens, the seedlings of herbs, and vegetables, are a super-quick crop with year-round income potential. Johnny's has selected both fast growing (ready in 10-15 days) and slow growing (ready in 16-25 days) varieties in a wide range of colors, textures, and flavors to meet your needs. Many are certified-organic seeds. Choose individual varieties to make your own custom mix, or purchase a conveniently pre-mixed blend of seeds in either a Mild Micro Mix or Spicy Micro Mix.
Also harvested at a very young age, sprouts and shoots make a great addition to your mix. High seed and labor costs for micro greens demand that you get a good price for the finished product. We recommend you seek out markets, usually high-end restaurants, before you commit to micro greens in a big way.
Be Quick, Be Efficient; Increase your lettuce revenue with the right tools
Lettuce has a relatively short shelf life, so the key to profitability is to grow just what you can sell, to start seeds at appropriate times for transplant, and to schedule multiple successions. Johnny's precision seeders are tools designed for both greenhouse and field application. They range from the single-row Glaser seeder, which is suitable for lettuce head production if seeding in the field, to the Four-Row and Six-Row Seeders for making dense plantings of baby leaf lettuce both in the greenhouse or field. We have a wide selection of growing and planting tools and supplies. And check out our new harvest and seedling cart to get your flats of plants out to the field and your harvested lettuce back to the packing shed.
Harvesting salad mix is fast with Johnny's exclusive Greens Harvester, the manual version of a band saw harvester. A scalloped knife blade cleanly slices the leaves, and a cloth basket catches them. A single worker can harvest up to 100 lb. per hour. To complete the salad mix workflow, Johnny's offers three salad spinners for washing baby leaf lettuce.