Nogales market flush with Mexico vegetablesA buyer’s market for West Mexico vegetables emerged in February as delayed volumes of tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers finally crossed at Nogales, Ariz.

Shippers, meanwhile, were facing slack demand thanks to a series of winter storms in the Midwest and Northeast.

The combination sent tomatoes close to floor prices set by the U.S.-Mexico suspension agreement. Tomatoes in 25-pound cartons — sizes 5x5 to 5x6 — shipped for $8.30-8.95 on Feb. 10, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Johnny McDaniel, sales and operations director for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said peak supplies of romas were hitting Nogales three weeks later than normal.

“Things are really picking up,” Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said Feb. 6.

“The weather in Mexico is 90 degrees plus and they’re having great volumes. But if the main part of the U.S. and Canada continues to be caught up in a perpetual snowdrift we’ll continue to see slow movement, which means depressed prices.”

Whether tomato volumes stay on pace depends partly on whether white fly becomes a problem. It can produce abnormal coloring on any variety, and usually shows up by March 15.

Chris Ciruli, partner in Nogales-based Ciruli Bros. LLC, expected promotable supplies of Mexican vegetables throughout February — with eggplant joining in March.

“You’ll see promotions for eggplant kick up as Lent gets started,” Ciruli said. “From Ash Wednesday (March 5) on, we should see pretty decent eggplant movement.”

Tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers were all affected to varying extents by fall storms — some hurricane- or tropical storm-force — in Mexico that forced replantings and delayed production.

“We had to replace shadehouses and replant the cucumber deal, and that’s why we just started getting the volume a week or two ago,” McDaniel said.

“All of December and most of January we didn’t have many cucumbers because of the weather at the time of planting.”

“Cucumbers have been up and down,” Ciruli said. “We’ve lost a lot of crops in the south, but we’ve been seeing more cukes come out of the north for a longer period.”

Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Produce started slowly on its Culiacan, Mexico, bell peppers for the same reason.

“It affected some of our hothouse operations,” said Atomic Torosian, managing partner.

“We got off to a later start out of that area than we’d like.”

Later in the spring, Crown Jewels expects to add production of cucumbers, squash, bell peppers and perhaps some strawberries in Baja California.

The reemergence of bell peppers didn’t help sellers on price.

“Demand was very good, the markets remained high and we came into a nice flush of product about the same time Florida got back on their feet,” said Mike Aiton, marketing director for Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International. “It was a double whammy to the markets.”

“There aren’t many items in West Mexico where the market prices are very good,” Aiton said.

“Last year on hard squash, there were a lot of sales in the $20s due to some weather, but now it’s more seasonably correct in the $8-12 range.”

Fried DeSchouwer, president of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC, retained some optimism for the Nogales season.

“I foresee a good ending of the season in the next two months and I think the market will restore itself,” he said Feb. 11. “Once the U.S. storms subside, people will at least be able to go out and shop.”

The Giumarra Cos. and Crown Jewels Produce are boosting Mexico watermelon production.

Giumarra, which traditionally had a gap from January to early April, has more than doubled production, said Gil Munguia, Giumarra Nogales division manager. Crown Jewels expects to be up as much as 40% on seedless watermelons and honeydews starting in early April.