Heavy rains in Mexico have delayed some crops for Ciruli Bros., including eggplant by as much as two weeks, partner Chris Ciruli says.
Heavy rains in Mexico have delayed some crops for Ciruli Bros., including eggplant by as much as two weeks, partner Chris Ciruli says.

Although heavy autumn rains slowed the start of winter vegetable and fruit production for some west Mexico growers, most importers expected any gaps to be negligible and a distant memory by December.

On items such as watermelon, squash and cucumbers, there seemed to be, if anything, too much supply on hand.

“Demand is weak, and prices are low for cucumbers,” Mike Aiton, director of marketing for Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International LLC, said Oct. 31. “Everybody in Mexico got started earlier.

"It just seems like anytime in Mexico you get six or eight people handling a product, they seem to be very competitive trying to get the business, and the market suffers because of it.”

“We’re kind of holding back with squash, the market’s been pretty depressed,” Jose Pesqueira, sales manager at Nogales, Ariz.-based Apache Produce Imports LLC, said Nov. 13. “As it improves a bit, we’ll increase volume.

“Everybody comes in at once at this time of the year,” Pesqueira said. “You’ve still got product on the East Coast and out of San Diego. Nogales doesn’t seem to work until you start getting more involved with tomatoes.”

Storms boost water supply

Hurricane Manuel hit parts of Mexico in September, followed by Hurricane Raymond in October.

“The hurricane that hit down by Acapulco inched up the coast, got over Culiacan and hung around as a tropical storm that dropped a whole lot of water — 24 inches in some places,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

“Luckily that was not long after seeds had gone in, so growers either replanted or were able to save their crops.”

On the bright side, the region’s depleted reservoirs enjoyed much-needed replenishment. That spared growers and Mexican regulators some tough decisions about which crops could be planted, and how much.

“I think we’ll see crop volumes pretty similar to last year,” Jungmeyer said. “If there’s an excellent market in Mexico, less may come to the U.S.”

Watermelon pricing tough

Prices on Sonora watermelon took a tumble as winter neared.

“We’ve seen high production out of the area, which is really affecting this market,” Brent Harrison, president of Nogales, Ariz.-based Harrison Fresh, said Nov. 6.

“Lately it’s been light demand with strong volume, and that’s caused our prices to fall,” he said.

Red flesh seedless watermelons types 4 and 5 crossing at Nogales shipped for mostly 6-8 cents a pound Nov. 15, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s a steep drop from Oct. 22 pricing of 22-24 cents a pound.

“A combination of a couple of good years of watermelon pricing, production and overall increases in acreage are giving us a bigger supply than normal,” Harrison said.

Good tomato yields

Mainland Mexico tomatoes were expected to start arriving in Nogales by mid-December in ample volumes for all varieties.

Prime Time, for one, has been importing romas, rounds and grape tomatoes out of Baja California through San Diego since the last week of October.

That production should transition to the mainland around Jan. 1.

L&M Cos. Inc. planned to start romas about Dec. 15, following bell peppers, which started Dec. 1, and eggplant, which started the first week of November.

“The crops have been through a couple of major rain events, but growers have been working hard to get them back healthy again and we expect pretty decent yields,” said Greg Cardamone, general manager of vegetables for L&M Cos.

Bell peppers slow

Ciruli Bros. LLC, Nogales, reported a slow start for Culiacan green bell peppers.

“On a normal year, we should already be into green bells and cucumbers,” partner Chris Ciruli said Nov. 12. “That we’re not into those two crops yet is an effect of the rain. Eggplant was about two weeks behind normal, but green beans were close to their targeted (November) date. Tomatoes are normal.

“We’ve had a few setbacks in the vegetable category, but once we get into December, it should pick up and straighten out. We’re optimistic that it’s going to be a good winter season,” he said.

Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Produce started eggplant around Nov. 20 out of Culiacan and planned to follow with green beans the first week of December, said Jesus Gonzalez, general manager for the Nogales office. Green beans go through March.

Crown Jewels also begins green bell peppers in early December, followed by red, yellow and orange in the middle of the month.

Rain damage to vegetable crops was very minor, Gonzalez said.

“We’ll have — not a gap, but light volume, and then we should fall right into place after mid-December,” he said.

“We are at most a day or two behind on vine-ripened tomatoes,” Steve Yubeta, vice president of sales at Nogales-based Farmer’s Best International, said Nov. 12.

“Those arrive the first week of December. Everything seems to be on track and on time with the Sonora crops.”