(March 23) NOGALES, Ariz. — Unusual cold spells have wreaked havoc on some early varieties in the Sonora growing region in Mexico, although producers insist quality won’t be a problem.

Meanwhile, in California’s Coachella Valley, frigid weather that had quelled enthusiasm about prospects for the upcoming deal has given way to heat that, growers say, has propelled the crop to a near-normal schedule.

Frost has cut into the perlette crop in Sonora by as much as 25% to 30%, by some estimates.

“The weather has been very cold for two weeks,” Cesar Salazar, director of the Local Agricultural Association of Table Grape Growers, Hermosillo, said March 8. “There hasn’t been enough sunshine, which is unknown for this desert this time of year. That upsets the early varieties.”

The association was due to release its first official assessment on the crop at the end of March.

QUALITY

“We do think the quality will not be affected on the rest of the bunches not already affected,” Salazar said.

Even without the cold snap, Salazar said, it’s generally difficult to predict what kind of prices the crop will fetch.

“We never know what the market is; it’s hard to say,” he said. “It’s supposed to be a better market for price.”

In late May 2003, as the Sonora deal was approaching its peak, f.o.b. prices for 18-pound bagged medium-large perlettes were $10.35-12.35, with medium-large flame seedless at $12.35.

In Coachella, at that time, perlettes were $12.85-13.85 and flames mostly $14.85.

ALMOST ON SCHEDULE

Even with the weather problems, the deal was expected to get under way on time, in early to mid-May, which is about normal.

Growers appear to be optimistic.

“The crop, so far, is looking good in some areas and not so good in others,” said Arturo Castelo Lopez Arias, a grower with Vineyards 2000 in the Hermosillo area.

The Caborca region, about 100 miles west of Hermosillo, also reported some damage, said Bobby Peraza, salesman for Nogales-based MAS Melons & Grapes LLC.

“It damaged our perlettes, and we have about 14 hectares (about 35 acres), which is pretty significant,” Peraza said. “But our sugraones and flames should come in pretty strong.”

Several shippers and marketing agents gathered in Sonora in early March to assess the situation, said Atomic Torosian, managing partner in Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, Fresno, Calif.

Other than damage to early varieties, the outlook appeared positive, Torosian added.

“Everything else is coming along real good,” he said. “The overall quality is going to be fine this year.”

Frost hasn’t been a problem in Coachella, but cold did persist early in the growing season and prompted uneasiness on the part of some growers, said Mike Aiton, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Sun World International Inc., Bakersfield, Calif.

“We started off maybe 10 days behind, and it’s been extremely hot here, over 100 degrees over the last six days, and that has kind of accelerated things,” Aiton said. “So, now, I’d probably bet we’re only three or four days behind where we were last year, which would put them at exactly the same starting date as 2002.”

Growers say that the deal likely would get under way around May 10, which is normal.

Volume on early varieties likely would be somewhat lower, Aiton said.