(March 19, 1:48 p.m.) Late-season problems out of Chile should yield a strong start to the Mexican grape season in May, importers predict.

Rains March 7 just north and south of Santiago could lower April volumes by 10% or more, importers said, clearing the pipeline for Mexico, which importers say should begin in the first half of May, about on time.

“It will be a very active deal due to the rains in Chile,” said Omar Abu-Ghazaleh, import manager for Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC, Reedley, Calif. “We anticipate a significant shortage.”

Bill Sykes, president of The Sykes Co., Rio Rico, Ariz., agreed that Mexico should get off to a good start this season.

“The rains in Chile will help us quite a bit,” he said.

Late-season Chilean shipments will be down 5% to 10% because of the rains, predicts Josh Leichter, grape category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

“We should see a strong opening on green grapes (out of Mexico),” he said.

Finding enough space on ships for late-season Chilean grapes also could be an issue this year, as growers hustle to catch up from the rains and get product to the U.S. before April 20, the date after which Chilean grapes aren’t allowed in the U.S. because of a federal marketing order for California grapes, Leichter said.

PRICES

On March 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $14 for 18-pound containers of bagged extra-large thompson seedless grapes from Chile, up from $11-12 last year at the same time. Eighteen-pound containers of extra-large seedless flames were $12, comparable to last year at the same time. Extra-large red globes were $16, up from $12 last year at the same time.

Abu-Ghazaleh said growers expect very good quality out of Mexico because of abundant chilling hours this winter. Early reports indicate a possibly light green crop this season.

Leichter and Sykes also said early reports indicate good quality.

Pacific Trellis expects to begin shipping Mexican perlettes May 5-10 and early red varieties May 8-12.

Shipments for The Sykes Co. should begin the first week of May with volumes peaking by about May 17, in plenty of time to promote for Memorial Day on May 26, Sykes said.

Oppenheimer expects to begin bringing in Mexican grapes May 5-10, Leichter said. In addition to big perlette, flame and sugraone programs, the company plans to introduce some new black seedless varieties and an organic flame program this season, he said.