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Transcript of Nc Lettuce
Lettuce has been grown in NC for many years
NC Romaine and Head Lettuce History and Opportunities
Bill Jester, Extension Associate Horticulturist, NC State University
Lettuce has been grown in NC for many years. Commercial production flourished in the Cape Fear region beginning in the late 1800s and continuing up until the 1950s when vacuum cooled lettuce from California began to dominate the eastern market. A few growers in the Castle Hayne area continue to produce romaine and leaf lettuce up to today.
Beginning in 1992, several processed salad companies entertained the prospect of sourcing lettuce from North Carolina and the rest of the eastern seaboard. 14 growers in 5 counties produced one hundred ten acres of contract head lettuce in 1993 and 1994. Unfortunately the company decided to discontinue their vegetable production and concentrate on their primary business, sugar cane. From 2003 to 2005, another salad company put together a deal in Eastern NC. In the spring of 2003, over 80 acres of Romaine was produced. Yields were good and the company was unable to buy all the lettuce due to over supply. Over sixty acres of romaine was produced by a four growers in the spring 2004 and sold to a number of companies. The prices were extremely good and growers were pleased. The NC Cooperative Extension Service was involved in developing information for the growers in both incidences.
Dole Foods has located here in North Carolina with their salad plant being located in Bessemer City, NC near Charlotte. They offer NC growers an opportunity to grow and sell lettuce if we can meet Dole quality specifications. It is a challenge because most of the lettuces are bred for the climate in the Salinas Valley in California and the desert southwest. These are climates that are stable and dry. North Carolinas climate is one of extremes rather and it is important that varieties be identified or bred to tolerate these extremes. In our research, we have identified several varieties that produce satisfactory yields and quality in Eastern NC.
From 2002 to 2005, lettuce trials, funded by the Specialty Crops Program, have been conducted at the Cunningham Research Station. We initially examined the feasibility of growing head and romaine lettuce in plasticulture for double cropping with muskmelons. We found that this system was economically sustainable in a double-crop situation, but is less desirable standing alone due to the lower plant populations per acre. In 1993 all the work was concentrated on bare-ground production with plant populations exceeding 24,000 per acre. Work initially concentrated on evaluating the adaptation of head lettuce varieties, then beginning in 2003 romaine variety screening has been the primary focus.
The focus of plant establishment has been on transplants, since direct seeding reduces the extent of the market window in NC. Historically bare rooted lettuce transplants were planted. The ideal situation would be mixing transplants and direct seeded lettuce. There is a need to develop systematic scheduling based on a number of years of planting and harvest data. The cultural system we have used is based on 42 inch row spacing with an in-row spacing of 10 to 12 inches. This cultural regime seems to be adapted well for our farmers.
We have learned much about lettuce in the few years we have worked on it. 1) Lettuce transplanters must have precise depth control. Lettuce transplants that are planted too deep do not develop normally. 2) Stand establishment and maintenance remains one of the biggest challenges. Sclerotinia and Rhizoctonia spp are the primary culprits in reducing stands. Many of the chemicals that are recommended do not work as well as they did ten years ago. 3) Weed control options are few and the one that is primarily used limits subsequent rotation options. We are presently exploring other weed control options. 4) Adapted varieties are a necessity since lettuce has a very limited range of adaptation. We may need to develop our own varieties. 5) Site selection is very important. Uniform soil types are important as well as good drainage are critical to obtain uniformity at harvest time.
On Thursday, May 11, 2006 we will have the 2006 Cole Crop and Lettuce Field Day at the Cunningham Research Station. The Cunningham Research Station is located north of Kinston, NC at the intersection of State Highway 58 and Cunningham Road across from Kinston High School. Registration will be from 3:00-3:30PM. Presentations will begin at 3:45 PM and end at 6:30 PM. Commercial pesticide credits will be offered.
The agenda of educational presentations is as follows:
Selecting Lettuce and Cabbage Varieties and Key Cultural PracticesBill Jester, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University
What is Dole Quality? Peter Gilmore, Vice President for East Coast Sourcing, Dole Food Company
Broccoli Varieties and Implementing Food Safety in Harvesting and PostHarvest Handling.Dr. Doug Sanders, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State UniversityPest Management
Lettuce DiseasesGerald Holmes, Department of Plant Pathology, NC State University
Lettuce and Cole Crop Insect PestsKen Sorensen, Department of Entomology, NC State University
Lettuce and Cabbage Weed Control OptionsDavid Monks, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University
Calibration Clinic Mark Seitz, Area Specialized Agent, NC Cooperative Extension
Lettuce Harvest 1994 Falling Creek Produce, Kinston, NC
Head lettuce 1994; Mike Harris, Hugo, NC
Gator Full Maturity 2003 Lettuce Trials
2005 Romaine Trials - Green Towers NC Standard Romaine