The transition of bell pepper production to Mexico was under way as New Year’s approached, but buyers will have to wait at least a few weeks for promotable volumes.
Baloian Farms finished its Thermal, Calif., green peppers Dec. 20, shifting production to Sonora’s Guaymas area. Fresno, Calif.-based Baloian had also started crossing about two shipments per week of baby bells out of Culiacan, Sinaloa, said Jeremy Lane, sales manager.
Prime Time International LLC, Coachella, Calif., is sourcing out of Baja and Sinaloa.
“We’ve been there in a limited way for a month on green peppers, two weeks on our hothouse peppers, and our field-grown are just now beginning,” Mike Aiton, director of marketing, said Dec. 20.
“I don’t think we’ll hit big volume for another three or four weeks,” Aiton said. “The market is a bit higher than normal based on supply and good demand for the holidays. Overall pepper markets have been very favorable for growers for the past 12 weeks.”
Extra large and jumbo green bell peppers crossing at Nogales ran mostly $8.95 to $12.95 for 1-1/9 bushel cartons on Dec. 20, up from year-ago prices of $7.95 to $8.95, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Large and extra large red bells in 15-pound cartons were $14.95 to $15.95, up from about $11 a year ago.
“I haven’t had a sense that there’s a Christmas pull,” Lane said. “I do see sales lining up for mini sweets and others. You’ll see a lot of those on party platters for New Year’s celebrations. Business ticked up there, but that’s more our stoplight bags and value added. Bulk sales are steady.”
Baloian also started hothouse red, yellow and orange peppers in light quantities the first week of December in Sonora.
“Right after the first of the year, that’s when we hope to get into our volume,” Lane said.
Peak levels of Mexico production for Prime Time International are February and March, Aiton said. That’s still expected, but getting there could be a bit of a bumpy ride.
“We had some damage on our first set due to rain, so the first flowers were knocked off,” he said. “It’s going to take us a little longer than usual to ramp up to peak volume because we don’t have quite the same number of peppers on the plants as we kick off the season.”
In Sonora the weekend before Christmas, rain caused some picking and packing delays. It didn’t last.
In California, Baloian has extended its Thermal season on elongated red peppers, mini sweets and baby bells — despite a December freeze that hit the region.
“There was a strong freeze a week or so ago, but we cover our pepper plants with blankets,” Lane said. A white cotton-based material sits on stakes inches above the plants and is pulled back for each harvest.
“We’re putting out a really nice elongated red pepper now,” Lane said of the Thermal operation. “We’re going to keep going for several weeks. It’s a striking contrast – one uncovered row on the edge was twigs after the freeze. Others harvesting red peppers in the area were pretty much done after that.”
Enough sunlight gets through the blankets for the red peppers to turn color, he said.
“It’s our second season doing this,” Lane said. “We used it at the beginning of last year to try to come a little earlier with spring peppers and it was successful.”