A short, lower-quality Chinese garlic crop should open the door for California producers, who report good yields and excellent quality.

The combination of a big, high-quality crop from California and a short crop from China could produce a milestone in the 2012-13 marketing season, said Jim Provost, president of West Grove, Pa.-based I Love Produce.

“I’ve been hoping for a year where California exports garlic to China,” Provost said. “This could be it.”

Low rainfall has produced near-ideal growing conditions in California, said Bill Christopher, president of Gilroy, Calif.-based Christopher Ranch LLC.

“The early garlic looks very good, and the packouts have been good,” he said. “There’s been no rain to stain garlic, like we’ve had the past couple of years.”

China’s crop will be about 30% lighter than last season, Provost said, with export-quality volumes in particularly short supply.

The short crop in China can be blamed on Mother Nature, said Louis Hymel, director of purchasing and marketing for Orlando-based Spice World Inc. Growers battled rain during planting season, Hymel said. A cold winter that followed only made things worse.

“There’s not a lot of size, and the quality’s not as nice as last year,” Hymel said. “There will be higher demand for California product.”

On July 2, 30-pound cartons of colossal California white garlic sold for $62 on the New York terminal market, comparable to last year at the same time.

Netted 5s of Chinese white garlic were $38-40, also similar to last year.

The market for California garlic will likely stay firm until new-crop Chinese garlic in 2013, Hymel said. In fact, there’s a good chance markets could strengthen before next year, he said.

Provost agreed.

“Markets are stronger than they’ve been for the past two years. It’s going to similar to the market two years ago. Garlic was tight, prices went up, and the prices for China and California weren’t that far apart.”

One big difference, however, is that two years, California also was short, Provost said. This season, Golden State growers are in better position to capitalize on their high yields and good quality.

“It bodes well for California garlic,” he said.

Christopher said summer garlic markets this year were bucking the usual trend.

“Normally prices go down this time of year,” he said. “This year it looks like they’ll hold.”

Chinese supplies will likely stay tight at least through August, Christopher said. After August, Chinese speculators who bought garlic early could begin releasing product into the market, once it’s had a chance to dry.