Expect early start, higher volume from Mexico for grapes

04/12/2012 12:42:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Greater volume and an earlier start than last year should characterize the 2012 Mexican table grape deal.

In 2011, growers in Mexico shipped 26,567 10,000-pound units to the U.S., down from 30,854 units the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This year, grower-shippers expect the crop to top last year’s by about 15%, provided good weather continues.

A freeze last year delayed the start of the season, wiping out a significant part of the crop and causing growers to miss the Memorial Day holiday.

The freeze obliterated as much as 40% of the early crop, said Louie Galvan, managing partner in Fruit Royale Inc., Delano, Calif.

This year should be different.

“Everything looks great,” said David Smith, senior vice president of sales and categories for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia. “We’re definitely getting retailers fired up for Memorial Day ads.”

Oppenheimer was especially hard-hit by last year’s freeze and should double its volume this season to 600,000 cases, Smith said.

The company will ship perlettes, sugraones and flames from Hermosillo and Caborca starting in early May and winding down the third week of June, he said.

Farmer’s Best International LLC, Rio Rico, Ariz., also expects its volume to increase this season when the company starts shipping out of Hermosillo, said Steve Yubeta, vice president of sales.

Perlettes should start shipping around May 8 with a few flames coming out of the early districts, said Atomic Torosian, managing partner at Crown Jewels Produce Co. LLC, Fresno, Calif.

Grapes might start moving out of the Guaymas, Sonora, region even earlier.

Like many grower-shippers, Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif., expects to start its 2012 season about a week earlier than last year, said Rudy Heras, category director. The firm should ship its first organic perlettes of the season by the first week of May with other varieties kicking off throughout the month.

The volume of Sun World’s proprietary Midnight Beauty variety is expected to rise more than 50% as new vines mature, with the company shipping up to 80,000 packages.

In all, Sun World expects to ship about 600,000 packages of grapes from Mexico this year.

Industrywide, the season could see a strong start for perlettes out of Mexico and California’s Coachella Valley, since Chile’s thompson and crimson varieties are expected to wind down early, Heras said.

Thanks to plenty of chilling hours in November and December, plants were able to take a long rest to replenish nutrients and carbohydrates, said Jared Lane, vice president of marketing for Stevco Inc., Los Angeles.

Since volume should be greater than usual, workers will have plenty of bunches to choose from when they’re thinning, resulting in better quality bunches, he said.

He expects perlettes to start around May 1-3 and flames about four or five days later.

Grupo Molina, which grows grapes marketed by Fresh Farms, Nogales, Ariz., continues to take out old vines and plant new ones, said Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing.

The grower should have 2 million boxes this season.

“It looks like we’re going to have a very nice crop of excellent quality grapes and promotable volumes on all varieties,” Havel said in mid-March.

Pacific Trellis Fruit, Reedley, Calif., expects to start shipping from Mexico the first week of May, as usual, said Dirk Winkelmann, international business development director.

“We’re going back to much more of a normal circumstance as far as startup time of the crop,” he said.

When Galvan returned to Fruit Royale from a trip to Mexico in early March, he reported ideal weather and “absolutely nothing negative” on the quality front.



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