Revised, May, 2015
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. Today, in terms of pound per person, head and leaf lettuce combined made lettuce the third most consumed fresh vegetable in the United States, behind tomatoes and potatoes. In 2014, consumption was 14.1 pounds and 10.8 pounds per person for head and leaf/romaine lettuce, respectively. Head lettuce consumption was up slightly in 2014 compared to 2013, however, overall it is lower than all other years since 1980. Leaf and romaine consumption was slightly lower in 2014 than the previous five years. (USDA ERS Yearbook Data, 2014)
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 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, lettuce was produced on 323,359 acres, up 3% since 2007. The number of farms producing lettuce on 5 acres or less increased 38% between 2007 and 2012. The 3-year yield average (2007-2009) in California was 20 tons per acre for iceberg, 15 tons per acre for romaine and 12 tons per acre for leaf lettuce.
Lettuce production in the U.S. in 2014 totaled 3,881 million pounds with 12% of domestic production exported. An additional 169.7 million pounds were imported. The value of U.S. lettuce production in 2013 totaled nearly $1.5 billion, making lettuce the leading vegetable crop in terms of value.
The 2013 season average U.S. prices were $26.90 per cwt for head lettuce and $34.73 for leaf/romaine lettuce. The current, on-going drought in California is likely to have a major impact on the state’s production with potential implications on U.S. supplies and prices now and in the future.
Based on most recent production and price averages, the estimated gross value per acre is approximately $9,400 for head and romaine lettuce and $8,000 for leaf lettuce. The cost of lettuce production varies depending on the location. It is labor-intensive, especially for harvest and post-harvest handling and packaging.