(March 22) Importers of Mexican grapes are looking forward to a strong rebound from last year’s disappointing crop.

“Things are looking really, really well,” said Bill Sykes, owner of The Sykes Co., Nogales, Ariz. “Last year was kind of rough. This year it’s just the opposite.”

Not enough chill hours and overall poor growing conditions doomed much of the 2006 crop, Sykes said. As a result, only about 11 million boxes shipped out of Mexico last year.

This year, with near-ideal growing conditions, the total could be closer to 16-18 million boxes of high-quality fruit, he predicted. An official estimate has not been made.

While he cautioned there are still several weeks of weather to negotiate, Renato Parada, president of RP Distributing Co. Inc., Nogales, also was optimistic heading into the Mexican deal.

“So far, the weather’s been good and there’s been good dormancy,” he said.

Originally, RP Distributing expected to begin its season a little later than usual this year, Parada said. But warm temperatures in mid-March were accelerating the crop’s growth, he said, and the company expects to begin shipping about May 6, a normal start.

If unseasonably warm weather continues, the deal could get underway by the first week of May, earlier than a typical start, Sykes said.

On March 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $11-12 for 18-pound containers of extra-large thompson seedless grapes from Chile, down from $14 last year at the same time.

The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, expects to begin its deal about May 8-10, a few days late but earlier than expected, thanks to the warm March, said Mark Serpa, Mexican grape manager. Oppenheimer plans to import about 35% more grapes than last year, Serpa said.

Mexican grape prospects better now than in 2006
Victor Romero, production director for Videxport, a grower near Hermosillo, Mexico, that provides product for The Giumarra Cos., hand thins some perlette table grapes. The Mexican table grape deal is expected to get under way in early May.