Importers of fresh fruits and vegetables are feeling the effects of a tropical storm and volcano that hit Guatemala hard at the end of May.
The Pacaya Volcano, which erupted May 28, and Tropical Storm Agatha, which struck May 29-30, killed 180 people and caused significant damage in Guatemala.
Mango shipments to Miami-based J&C Tropicals Inc. abruptly stopped at the end of May, two weeks earlier than expected, said Mario Dominguez, commodity manager. A plantain shipment that was supposed to leave June 1 was expected to leave June 5-6, he said.
Volumes of French beans, snow peas, sugar snap peas, baby squash, baby carrots, leeks, radicchio and other Guatemalan vegetables imported by Southern Specialties Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., could be down 30% in the near future, said Charlie Eagle, the company’s vice president of business development.
“Our growing areas were significantly impacted — for the short duration, anyway,” he said June 2, stressing that it was still too early to gauge exactly how much damage had been caused.
The volcano did not initially affect Southern Specialties’ growers, Eagle said, but the storm washed ashes into drainage systems and plugged them up, causing flooding. Growers had power outages, and damaged roads and bridges hindered access to ports.
Southern Specialties’ Guatemalan imports dropped 40% the week of May 31, Eagle said, but air shipments resumed by June 2. Arrivals were expected to soon be back on schedule, albeit with less product than normal, Eagle said.
“We’ll continue to have product across the board, but it remains to be seen what the actual losses will be,” he said.
The storm and volcano will likely affect sugar snap and snow pea markets in the U.S. for the near future, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc.
“The eruption disrupted the logistics of getting product, and the tropical storm will affect supplies for the next month or so,” Schueller said. “California product was already limited, and with Guatemala’s problems, it raises the demand for and cost of U.S. product.”
Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Fresh Quest Inc. wrapped up Guatemalan melon deals in early May, but the company’s smaller radicchio, leek, herb and other specialty vegetable deals were at least temporarily delayed by the volcano and storm, said Lou Kertesz, vice president.
Two of the farms the company sources vegetables from suffered major flood damage, and on one, ash and rock from the volcano seriously damaged greenhouses, Kertesz said.
Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropical Inc.’s papaya imports from Belize were not affected by the Tropical Storm Agatha, said Mary Ostlund, marketing director. Brooks was not importing any fruits or vegetables from Guatemala in late May or early June, she said.