Flash flooding in Baja California the weekend of Jan. 23-24 washed out bridges on the only road connecting the area with the U.S., halting the flow of strawberries and other produce commodities.
But the effect on markets was minimal, and by Jan. 28 it was back to business as usual, U.S. importers said.
The heavy rains, very rare for Baja, filled arroyos and destroyed two bridges in the mountains north of the San Quentin growing region, where San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce is in the heart of its strawberry season, said Mark Munger, the company’s vice president of marketing.
Fields were not flooded and fruit was not damaged, Munger said. But when the bridges came down, the only road out of Baja, Highway 1, was impassable.
“We always say Baja is the Wild West. You get a little rain and you see that,” Munger said. “We were completely cut off for three days.”
Initially, Andrew & Williamson toyed with the idea of flying strawberries to San Diego in private planes, Munger said.
But the local government came up with another solution. It didn’t take long for the waters to recede. Once they did, bulldozers cleared detours through the arroyo, and Highway 1 reopened.
By Jan. 28, daily strawberry volumes from the region were back to normal levels, Munger said.
The storm came at a time when U.S. strawberry buyers were counting more on Baja because of rain in the Oxnard, Calif., growing region and the freeze in Florida, Munger said.
When Baja was knocked out of commission, “it rocked people,” Munger said. But because Highway 1 reopened relatively quickly, the effect on supplies and markets turned out to be minimal.
“It was long enough to get on everybody’s nerves, but not long enough to drive any prices higher,” he said.
About 95% of the produce coming out of Baja in late January is strawberries, Munger estimated. Andrew & Williamson also is bringing in, at most, a truckload a day of tomatoes, and other shippers are importing light supplies of bell peppers, he said.
For four or five days, San Diego-based Pinos Produce didn’t get any cherry tomatoes or brussel sprouts from Baja, said salesman Tony Mandel. But in late January the company imports little from the region.
“It was an inconvenience more than anything else,” he said. “It’s very light this time of year.”
Mandel and Munger said the rains that washed out the bridges were much needed in super-dry Baja.
“Thank God we got the rain,” Mandel said. “It was a blessing in disguise.”