(Oct. 22, 4:36 p.m.) Hurricane Norbert spared Mexico’s watermelon crop any severe damage, but sources said other factors might keep volumes lower than normal.

“Overall growing costs are getting out of control,” said Brent Harrison, president of Al Harrison Distributors, Nogales, Ariz. “A lot of guys are shifting to grain or corn. They can get contract prices for those other products.”

Harrison said the weak economy also might limit the amount of financing importers can give their grower partners.

Curtis DeBerry, owner of Progreso Produce Ltd., Boerne, Texas, said abnormally wet weather also could limit production in some areas.

It’s the second consecutive year that importers have predicted lower volumes because of acreage reductions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Oct. 15 that cartons of red flesh seedless were 20-22 cents per pound for size 4-5s in Nogales, Ariz., and 18 cents per pound for 6s. That’s down from 32 cents per pound for 4-5s and 30 cents per pound for 6s at the same time last year.

DeBerry said the seedless market typically is in the high teens or low 20s this time of year, but he said he expects the price to move closer to 25 cents because of limited supply. He said Progreso expects to move 750 loads in the Southern Exposure and Disney Garden labels during the winter months.

“All the way through the first of the year supplies are going to be light,” he said. “The crop in Mexico is down significantly in some areas.”

Al Harrison Distributors began shipping from Hermosillo, Sonora, the week of Oct. 6. Brent Harrison said the company, which packs for the Dole label, expects to ship 15 loads a day from Sonora through November before production shifts to Jalisco and Colima in December.

“So far so good,” he said. “We dodged a big bullet with Hurricane Norbert. We didn’t get the wind and rain that we expected. Overall, I think numbers are down due to cold weather, but I think quality is fine.”

DeBerry said Progreso plans to start shipping from Sinaloa by Nov. 1. He said acreage is down about 30% in that state. He said Hurricane Norbert caused some wind damage there.

“What crops there are will have excellent quality,” he said, “but acreage is reduced. I was there last week and sugar levels looked good.”

DeBerry said some growers in Jalisco and Nayarit also have cut back plantings significantly. He said volumes should increase in January when production shifts to southern states such as Guerrero, Michoacan and Oaxaca. The Mexican deal wraps up in Tamaulipas in April and May when production shifts to Texas, DeBerry said.

However, not everyone is cutting back.

Sales and marketing director Jerry Wagner said growers who supply Nogales, Ariz.-based Farmer’s Best International LLC have increased their acreage 25%.

“We’re gaining market share,” he said, “and we’re excited about the additional acreage.”

Wagner said Farmer’s Best started shipping Sept. 29 from Sonora and will continue there through late November.

“It’s cutting great,” he said. “All in all it’s a real nice crop.”

Wagner said minis account for 35% of the company’s watermelon volume.

“It’s an excellent eating piece of fruit, and it’s convenient for small households,” he said. “The newer varieties are hardier and travel better than the early ones.”