Supplies of freeze-damaged Mexican vegetables could reach their lowest levels in March, importers said.

Mexican vegetable supplies could be lowest in March

Courtesy James Martin

Supplies of many Mexican vegetables damaged in a Feb. 4 freeze could bottom out in March.

Mid-February markets, meanwhile, were very strong.

San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce lost an estimated 50% to 60% of its remaining Sinaloa tomato crop, said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing.

Young plants, many of which were set to begin producing in mid-March, were hit the worst, Munger said.

As a result, the biggest gap for the company will likely occur in late March and early April, before production switches to Baja California.

There could actually be an increase in production in the second half of February, as growers scramble to get as much ripe product harvested as possible, Munger said. There will be a wide range in the quality of that fruit, he said.

On Feb. 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $24.95-28.95 for two-layer cartons of 4x4 Mexican vine-ripe tomatoes, up from $6.95-10 last year at the same time.

Prices of bell peppers and other vegetables will likely be high through late February to-mid March, said Mike Aiton, marketing director for Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International LLC.

“We’re getting all sorts of different reports, but the long-term damage is going to be significant,” he said.

Pepper supplies will likely be lowest in March, when fruit lower down on damaged plants is scheduled for harvest, Aiton said.

While prices will remain high on a variety of vegetables, they won’t stay as high as they were right after the freeze, he said.

“First it spiked, now I think there’s some stabilization,” he said.

On Feb. 11, the USDA reported prices of $37.95-40.95 for 1 1/9 bushel cartons of extra-large and jumbo green bell peppers, up from $18.95-20.95 last year at the same time.

In terms of tomato varieties, romas were hit the hardest because the highest percentage of them is grown in open fields, Munger said.

“We’re going to limp along and do the best we can,” he said. “It will take a while to recover.”

Unlike in growing regions like Florida, where growers can pick green tomatoes ahead of a freeze, Mexican vine-ripes don’t have that option, Munger said.

Munger said many of Andrew & Williamson’s customers have been amenable to modifying contract prices in the wake of the freeze.

In return, the company is working hard to ensure high-quality packs.