After two years of high prices, garlic markets have returned to Earth in 2012, and prices will likely stay at early-May levels until at least this summer, grower-shippers and importers said.

“The last two years, they’ve been historically high — they’ve been higher (in the past), but not for that prolonged of a period,” said Paul Auerbach, president of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus N.J. “This is more of a typical market.”

The combination of a sluggish economy and growers overplanting in response to the strong markets of the past two years was taking its toll on the garlic market in 2012, said Jim Provost, president of West Grove, Pa.-based I Love Produce.

“Right now the market is kind of depressed,” Provost said. “China, Argentina, Mexico and California all grew more, and there’s a bit of a glut in the market now.”

Acreage was unchanged this season, however, for Gilroy, Calif.-based Christopher Ranch, said Bill Christopher, president. And despite the dropoff from the past two years, demand for California garlic was robust among Christopher Ranch’s customers.

“We seem to be affected less each year by the Chinese,” Christopher said. “People are sticking with California.”

Provost reported good quality and size as of May 1.

Larger volumes than in recent years from both California and China left markets “a little sluggish” this year, Auerbach said. Product also was still shipping from Mexico and Argentina as of May 1.

“I think it will pretty much hold where it’s at,” Auerbach said. “It’s a steady, but not an exciting market. You have to push the product; it’s not moving itself.”

On May 1, 30-pound cartons of jumbo garlic from California were selling for $37.50 on the Los Angeles terminal market, down from $46.50 last year at the same time.

Movement should pick up when the old-crop pipeline clears and China and California begin their new seasons this summer, likely in mid- to late July, Provost said.

“There’s an opportunity for change with the new crop,” Provost said. “It seems California is about normal, and China could be down 10%, which should help.”

Prices sometimes dip when the new crops come on because shippers don’t have high cold storage costs, Christopher said, but high-quality garlic from California and China could give markets a boost.

Christopher reported good growing conditions on the 2012 new crop as of May 1.

That said, plantings for the 2012 new-crop season were completed months ago, Provost said. A full recovery from the current season’s overplanting probably won’t occur until the Summer 2013 crop begins harvesting.

“It takes time to correct problems with oversupply,” he said.