Revised, March, 2017
Lettuce is categorized as two types: head (iceberg) and leaf, which includes romaine, butterhead, and leaf types. Lettuce has been grown in the United States since colonial times. In the early 1900s, the ice shipping industry developed in the western states, expanding the range and popularity of lettuce. In terms of annual eatings per capita, lettuce salads rank second only to potatoes. In 2015, annual consumption of all types of lettuce was 24.5 pounds per person, of which 55 percent (13.5 pounds per person) was head lettuce. Lettuce consumption was nearly the same in the previous three years, but down about 10 percent from ten years ago. (USDA ERS Yearbook Data, 2016) The percent of total consumption of head lettuce and leaf/romaine lettuce derived from imports was 6.9 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.
All lettuce is marketed as a fresh product. Today, almost all head lettuce is field-packed for bulk sale or for transport to a salad processing plant. Estimates suggest that about one-fourth of all iceberg lettuce is now destined for processing into prepackage salads.
Lettuce is a cool-season crop that grows best with moderate daytime temperatures (73oF) and cool nights (45oF). Lettuce varieties are selected for specific planting periods and disease resistance. Lettuce is produce year round in the U.S. Although lettuce is produced in many states, California and Arizona dominate U.S. production. California accounted for 71 percent of U.S. head lettuce production in 2013, followed by Arizona producing nearly 29 percent. These states also produce over 98 percent of the leaf lettuce in the U.S.
According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), lettuce was produced on 166,800 acres, down 7 percent from 2014, which may be attributed to the severe drought in California. The number of farms producing lettuce on 5 acres or less increased 38% between 2007 and 2012. The average yield of head lettuce in 2015 was 36,200 pounds.
Total lettuce production in the U.S. in 2015 totaled 8,087 million pounds with 5.7% of domestic production of head lettuce exported and 10.9 percent of leaf/romaine exported. . The value of U.S. lettuce production in 2015 totaled nearly $1.9 billion, making lettuce the leading vegetable crop in terms of value.
The 2015 season average U.S. prices were $29.00 per hundred weight for head lettuce and $45.31 for leaf/romaine lettuce.
Based on most recent production and price averages, the estimated gross value per acre is approximately $10,400 for head lettuce. The cost of lettuce production varies depending on the location. It is labor-intensive, especially for harvest and post-harvest handling and packaging.
Sample Production Costs for Wrapped Iceberg Lettuce (2010)
National Retail Report: Fruits and Vegetables: Weekly Advertised Prices for Fruits and Vegetables at Major Retail Supermarket Outlets