Supplies of fresh produce from Mexico will remain tight for a while, and f.o.b. prices will be higher than customers are used to paying, distributors say.
Wicked weather is the culprit.
Rain and unusually cool — sometimes freezing — temperatures have plagued major Mexican growing areas since late last year.
“We are definitely going to be getting less volume in here for the next few weeks,” Denise Quiroga, sales manager for Rio Rico, Ariz.-based SunFed, said Feb. 7.
Many of the crops in the Guaymas, Sonora, area, where SunFed currently has much of its production, were affected, she said.
While some growers lost their entire crops, SunFed will have product, though less than anticipated, Quiroga said.
Shortages could continue after the spring harvest begins in late February or early March, she said. And the effect of the bad weather may be felt well into April.
SunFed’s products that were most affected include soft squashes, cucumbers and green bell peppers.
Volume is “way, way down in Nogales,” said Chris Ciruli, partner in Rio Rico-based Ciruli Bros.
“I don’t see any short-term recovery.”
The company usually has seven coolers running in February, but on Feb. 7, he said only four were going.
It could be mid-March before spring crops start ramping up, he said.
Those crops usually start the first week of March.
Items affected in the northern part of Mexico include zucchini, yellow squash, green beans and cucumbers, and there were higher markets on tomatoes and romas, Ciruli said.
“There’s no ability to write ads and promote because of lack of availability,” he said.
But some “old timers” believe this year’s freezes may be over with. They say there are no freezes after Valentine’s Day, Ciruli said.
“January was rough for us,” said Michael DuPuis, quality assurance and public relations coordinator for Nogales-based Divine Flavor LLC.
“We were able to cover our programs, but we’re hoping for February and March to go above and beyond covering our programs and having really good in-season promotions,” he said.
He’d like to see promotions for conventional and organic mini peppers as well as bell peppers, grape tomatoes and roma tomatoes.
Most of the company’s vegetables come from Culiacan, Sinaloa, in West Mexico, he said.
Divine Flavor’s product line also includes squash and mini peppers in Sonora and bell peppers and grape tomatoes in Jalisco.
The company grows much of its product in Sinaloa in greenhouses or high-tech hothouses, he said.
Divine Flavor has been converting more facilities to greenhouse technology, which helps ensure that crops start on time and that the company can fill its programs, he said.
But he added that the cold weather that Sinaloa and Sonora have been experiencing can affect even greenhouse production.
He was hopeful that temperatures will start to rise in February.
“That’s generally when things start picking back up again,” he said.
The Sinaloa region received 10-12 inches of rain around Christmas, said Al Voll, salesman at Fresh Farms in Rio Rico.
“It was a disaster down there,” he said.
The weather events “changed the whole chemistry of the soil,” Voll said.
Mexico in general has been unseasonably cold, he added.
Nighttime temperatures have been extremely low for extended periods, so growing hours have been limited.
The cool weather has also affected pollination.
“The bees just aren’t working,” Voll said.
They buzz around for a couple of hours, “then they head home,” he said.
“You’re definitely going to see a reduction in numbers,” Voll said, while markets remain “super strong,” with many f.o.b. prices in the double digits.
He predicted inconsistent volume and pricing well into March.
Even before the weather challenges, many growers planted fewer romas and round tomatoes because of uncertainty about the tomato suspension agreement last summer and not knowing if they would have to pay tariffs, said Brian Bernauer, director of operations and sales for Nogales-based Calavo Growers Inc.
“A lot of people shifted and planted bell peppers and cucumbers,” he said.
Volume will be down because of fewer plantings, the shift to other vegetables and bad weather, Bernauer said.
“Therefore prices probably will be more active and more reactive.”
Most tomatoes in Sonora are grown in shade houses, he said.
“But when you’re at 29 degrees for a couple of hours, even if you’re inside, it’s still cold.”