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UC study: Iceberg lettuce still profitable on Central Coast

Todd Fitchette Iceberg lettuce harvest in the Salinas Valley
Iceberg lettuce production in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties remains a profitable crop for growers, according to a recent study from the University of California.
While California growers can still profit from iceberg lettuce, University of California study shows that broccoli is largely unprofitable

New cost studies on iceberg lettuce and broccoli from the University of California reveal that money can still be made with one while the other is largely unprofitable.

The cost studies by the by University of California (UC) ANR Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension show sample costs of the crops for fresh markets in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties show that at an assumed level of $13 per carton for iceberg lettuce, a grower producing at least 1,100 42-pound cartons per acre can net a profit, based on a hypothetical well-managed farming operation using practices common to the Central Coast Region.

Such cannot be said for broccoli, which even at the highest prices and yields, net income remains negative, according to the study.

Both studies assume a farm operation of 1,500 non-contiguous acres of rented land. The hypothetical iceberg-lettuce farm has 250 acres planted to iceberg lettuce. The lettuce is hand-harvested into 42-pound cartons containing 24 film-wrapped heads.

The hypothetical broccoli farm has 500 acres planted to broccoli. The broccoli is hand-harvested into 21-pound bunch cartons. On each farm, the remaining acreage is assumed to be planted to other cool season vegetable crops.

Land rents for row crops in both cases are large cost drivers as prices in the region range from $450 to $3,300 per acre per year.

Both studies assumed a $2,700-per-acre rent price.

“These studies have an expanded section on labor, which includes information on California's new minimum wage and overtime laws,” said Laura Tourte, UC Cooperative Extension farm management advisor in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties, who co-authored the studies.

Costs, materials and practices shown in the studies will not apply to all farms. Input into methods and costs were provided by Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates.

Free copies of the iceberg lettuce and broccoli studies, along with other cost studies undertaken by the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics can be accessed online at

TAGS: Extension
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