Contrary to the urging of many fruit traders and port interests, the USDA denied the request for an extension in the starting date for the California grape marketing order several days ago. Find that coverage here. I argued for pushing the date back a bit, but those who opposed what was called a humanitarian gesture argued that California growers shouldn't make the sacrifice alone for their Chilean counterparts, stating for example  that importers should take a reduced commission and longshoremen a lower wage. That's a fair point, but in any case the earthquake and the uneven shipments sets up a rather interesting and potentially chaotic period for seedless grapes over the next few weeks. Be sure to follow the Twitter search for grapes here.

Check out the weekly shipments of all produce commodities at this link.

Find the USDA market news portal here.

If you ever need trade statistics from the USDA, go here to create a standard query from the USDA GATS Web site.

Quick hitters on grapes:

USDA reported season to date shipments on Chilean grapes were off 27% through mid-March compared with a year ago

The USDA retail report states
only 458 stores were promoting Chilean grapes March 26 compared with more than 7,900 the same time a year ago. The average retail promotion price was $2.07 per pound, compared to $1.57 per pound the same time last year.

The f.o.b. for Chilean grapes on March 29 was as low as $8-10 per carton for amber green seedless grapes and more than $22 for some lots of crimson seedless. Prices at the same time last year were generally in the $12 to $14 per carton range.

January U.S. imports of grapes from Chile were valued at $171 million in January 2010, up from $142 million in January 2009. Volume of Chilean grapes imported was 78,000 metric tons in January, down about 3,000 metric tons from year ago figures.

The USDA National Fruit and Vegetable Retail Report showed the following summary of promotion activity:

Advertised Prices for Fruits & Vegetables at Major Retail Supermarket Outlets 03/20 to 04/01

Diversification of Retail Ads As Chilean imports continue to be limited there is a noticeable increase in the diversification of fruit produce advertisements compared to 2009. Red delicious apples, avocados, clementines, grapefruit, mangoes, navel oranges, and pineapple all saw a jump of at least 1,000 stores over 2009 this week.

In the final full week of Lent many stores still had seafood specials along with early Passover food items. Potted spring flowers, cut daffodils and early Easter lilies were featured by the floral departments. Strawberries, avocados, red delicious apples, baby carrots and zucchini squash were the top five overall produce items this week.

Asparagus, red bell peppers, and russet potatoes rounded out the top five vegetable items while mangoes and pineapple completed the top five fruit. The top five fruit items accounted for 58% of all fruit ads this week. Fruit ads were up 15% from the previous week. The top five vegetable ads accounted for 54% of all vegetable ads. Vegetables ads were up 7% from the previous week. Overall produce ads this week were up 11% from the previous week.

The major ad items in the fruit category this week that were lower in price than last year included navel oranges at 2%, pineapple at 13%, avocados at 17%, and red delicious apples at 18%. Cantaloups were the highest compared to last year at 27% higher with strawberries at 6% and mangoes at 9% higher.

Of the vegetable items heavily advertised this week that were higher in price than last year included zucchini squash at 5% and mushrooms at 7%. Sweet potatoes were 21% lower than last year while russet potatoes in a 5 lb bag were 17% lower, with baby carrots at 8% and asparagus 5% lower than last year. As used here, major ad items are defined as being regularly surveyed produce items that were featured in 3,000+ stores for the week.