Mildew dampens Mexican melon volume outlook

02/25/2013 09:47:00 AM
Mike Hornick

Grower Alliance LLC has added a winter watermelon deal to its offerings in time to benefit from the strong market that followed January weather damage in Mexican production regions.

Rio Rico, Ariz.-based Grower Alliance also added winter honeydews, partner Jorge Quintero Jr. said. The honeydews started about Feb. 1; watermelons, a week before.

“We’re heavy in the fall and spring on those,” Quintero said. “We wanted to bridge that gap and have it available through the whole Nogales season. For a couple years we searched for growers and we’ve found one in Nayarit we can work with.”

Nayarit and Jalisco watermelons suffered mildew damage from January rains, while it and other crops to the north were hit by freezes.

“Those guys were geared up and cruising over the holidays,” said Brent Harrison, president of Nogales, Ariz.-based Al Harrison Co. “Then it got wet, disease set in and just took over.”

Still, watermelons from those states are getting through.

“So far they’ve been beautiful and the market is really up there, so we’re happy,” Quintero said.

Quintero expected watermelon prices to settle into the 24-26 cents per pound range for a while. The next big Mexican production area to come online is Guaymas in April.

“Today we’re quoting a good 10 cents over that, a direct effect of the cold weather in northern Mexico,” he said Jan. 28. “Pretty much the only guys coming in right now are south of Sinaloa.”

“The watermelon industry will definitely see a hit in volume for the next couple months,” Harrison said. “The offshore program will supply product for the U.S., but it won’t offset the Mexico losses. We’ll continue to see high prices through February and March.”

In early February, Al Harrison Co. was harvesting offshore in Guatemala, product bound for Florida ports. In mid-February it was slated to begin a six-week program in Costa Rica.

Watermelon volume is off by about two-thirds, Harrison said. In addition to weather, a continuing movement by Mexican growers away from melons into contract crops like sugar cane also diminishes crossings.

“We’re all fighting for the same product,” he said. “Nogales, Texas and even the Mexican national market want it. A typical day for me is finding a grower that has it. Then there are seven or eight buyers at the same field at the same time trying to buy the same loads. It makes it tough to have consistency on any fruit at this time.”


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