(Dec. 23) NOGALES, Ariz. — Early f.o.b.s for West Mexican produce are reflecting Sinaloa’s seasonally low volumes, the effects of Hurricane Kenna on Jalisco and Nayarit, as well as heavy rains that have limited vegetable production in Florida, shippers say.

Prices generally adjust downward once the West Mexico deal hits its production stride in early to mid-January. As always, weather also will play a factor.

In mid-December, prices for West Mexican tomatoes were still in the double digits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the following f.o.b.s Dec. 16 for two-layer flats of greenhouse vine-ripes: 4x4s and 4x5s $18.35-20.35, 5x5s and 5x6s $16.35-18.35.

The USDA hadn’t reported f.o.b.s yet for field-grown tomatoes, which were still crossing in small volumes, said Frank Calixtro, sales manager for Tricar Sales Inc.

West Mexico should reach peak tomato production by Jan. 5 or 10, said Jesse Driskill, general manager of the Nogales branch of Meyer Tomatoes LLC, King City, Calif. Tomatoes may not reach the floor price until sometime in February, he said.

“That’s a lot of room to move in the markets right now,” Driskill said.

For now, the rains that have hit Florida have helped create high prices for West Mexico tomatoes, Driskill said.

Both Driskill and Jerry Wagner, sales manager for Farmers Best International LLC, said fewer red and golden bell peppers were planted in fields this season.

“Some people cut back, and other people got out of the deal,” said Wagner, who cited the challenges in maintaining consistent supplies and quality.

Despite the trend, Farmers Best increased its acreage for the colored bells, which are grown in La Cruz, Sinaloa, he said.

Tricar grows its colored bells in hothouses, said Joey Bernal, manager of greenhouse sales.

He expects heavier volumes of the bells in the month ahead.

Driskill said other than the drop in colored bells, acreage on crops is almost identical to last year, with less than a 2% variation. But because of a lack of problems so far in fields, this winter’s deal could yield higher volumes, he said.

He reported high quality for the crops in Mexico, which has had little rain. Small volumes of bell peppers have had viral problems, he said.

Hurricane Kenna wreaked havoc on watermelon plants in Jalisco and Nayarit, which helped bolster markets early on for the deal, said Brent Harrison, salesman for Al Harrison Co. Distributors. The USDA reported pound prices for red flesh seedless at 24 cents for sizes 4s and 5s and 20-21 cents for 6s. The same time last year, 4s were at 18-20 cents, 5s 18-19 cents and 6s 14-16 cents.

Al Harrison Co. was drawing its volumes from Colima, just south of Jalisco and Nayarit.

“Quality has been outstanding,” Harrison said.

He expected production from Nayarit and Jalisco to be affected until mid-January. Competition should come in late December from the offshore deal, he said.

Although some Mexican cantaloupes have begun crossing following a U.S. ban, volumes were limited in mid-December, said Chris Ciruli, salesman for Ciruli Bros. Only a couple of growers had received the certification required by the Mexican government and the necessary approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he said.

Ciruli said his company hoped to have some of its growers certified by mid- to late January for February production. Meanwhile, in mid-December, Ciruli Bros. was shipping the tail end of the Arizona deal, due to finish by the end of the month.

Ciruli expected to begin shipping Peruvian mangoes through Nogales and south Florida by mid-January, about 10 days earlier than usual, he said.

As far as tomatoes, Driskill said industry trends toward long shelf life variety vine-ripes have left a hole in the market for mature greens.

With that in mind, Meyer Tomatoes increased its green volumes this season.

Foodservice clients like the shelf life of green tomatoes and the way they slice, he said.

He added that Burger King probably is the biggest user of mature-green tomatoes in the U.S.

Driskill said that under the new tomato suspension agreement, the floor prices for Mexican tomatoes will remain the same, but enforcement will be more consistent.