Lettuce shortage as crops ravaged by warm weather, virus

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FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) — A lettuce shortage is happening up in northern California and you might notice it the next time you visit any fast-food or restaurant. The reason behind it? Those our sister station KGPE spoke with in Salinas, where the crop comes from this time of year, says the unseasonably warm weather has impacted the crop.

They also say a virus is attacking it. Right now some places like Wendy’s are not putting lettuce on burgers or sandwiches. 

A sign posted outside the drive-thru says it’s unavailable due to weather-related incidents and wildfires.

“I’m not surprised, I mean it makes sense, I feel bad for the farmers and the restaurants,” said Lindsay Bloom, a Clovis resident. 

Christopher Valadez, President of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, says multiple days of extreme heat caused stress on the lettuce crops in Monterey County. 

“Which could of lead to the weakening of the plant, lots of certain plants were unable to withstand the heat for a prolonged period of time,” he said. 

That’s not the only issue, Valadez says late August-early September, ash from the wildfires made its way onto the crop. But he says crews were able to tear off the outer layer of the crops and give it a good rinse, though there was damage done.

One major concern has been a lettuce virus called Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus, otherwise known as INSV.

“It’s a disease of lettuce that affects the production of lettuce here on the Central Coast and I’m referring to lettuce grown from Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito,” Valadez said.

Church Brothers Farms in Salinas says the virus is spread by certain bugs. They say it leaves spots on the product.

They hope the problem will soon take care of itself now that the lettuce season is winding down up north. 

“We see this virus sticking around for another few weeks, at least until we finish Salinas, with iceberg lettuce we transition to Huron in about two to three weeks 100%, and then we’ll be in the desert in about four or five weeks,” said Josh Ruiz, Vice President of ag ops for Church Brothers Farms. 

Valadez says they are working on creating a task force to hopefully get ahead of this virus for the next season.

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