South Africans Pass on Salad After Rains Drown Lettuce Seeds

South Africans are being forced to forgo their greens after unseasonal rains drowned seedlings in the country’s main salad-farming areas.

Woolworths Holdings Ltd. and Pick n Pay Stores Ltd. are among retailers that have struggled to keep stock of lettuce after the rains in February and March ruined crops. Full supply will be restored within the next two weeks, a Woolworths spokesman who can’t be identified in line with the company’s policy said in an e-mailed response to questions yesterday. Woolworths, which is based in Cape Town and has more than 330 stores countrywide, has posted signs on shop shelves to notify customers about the shortage.

“Extremely hot conditions and then heavy rains” affected crops and Pick n Pay has experienced shortages, Anthony Brown, the Cape Town-based company’s divisional manager for fresh produce, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “We expect the situation to normalize within the next three to four weeks.”

In less than two weeks last month the country’s biggest city, Johannesburg, got more than double the usual average monthly rainfall, according to the South African Weather Service. Showers in the Cape Province and Gauteng, where Johannesburg lies, caused delays in harvests. Ninety-nine percent of lettuce produced is for local consumption, according to the agriculture ministry.

Restaurants, Grocers

Restaurants and independent vegetable sellers have also been affected. Those that have been able to source lettuce have faced higher asking prices. Fruit & Veg City, a closely held Cape Town-based South African grocer, has more than doubled lettuce prices in the last month, Rupert Stoop, a company spokesman, said by phone.

There is also limited supply of other vegetables, according to Dino da Silva, co-owner of Tyrone Fruiterers in Johannesburg.

“The rains around Gauteng last month have caused shortages for the last four weeks of several leafy greens such as cabbage, spinach, lettuce and herbs,” he said by phone yesterday. “It got to a point where we were being dictated to on price -- it’s a case of demand and limited supply.”

While some of the higher costs have been passed onto customers, the retailer has reduced margins on these products, Da Silva said. Many of the farmers had to re-plow and plant from seed, he said. Even so, “it should all be back to normal in the next two weeks,” he said.

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