Importers of Mexican vegetables and fruits saw more than hype in warnings of a wet winter, but none were bracing for a train wreck at least as November started.
"El Niño weather is the greatest issue we"re likely to have," said Jaime Chamberlain, president of J-C Distributing Inc., Nogales, Ariz.
"It"s not unfathomable that you will see gaps in some commodities," he said. "The industry is so well covered you probably won"t notice too much."
"If you"re in a shade house or greenhouse, you"re probably good," said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales. "But (fall rain) also cools things off, and those plants need a certain amount of heat. Tomatoes don"t like it when it"s below 80 or so. They slow down."
Well before winter, a series of storms hit production areas. Some shippers were already taking erratic weather as a given.
"We all hear about the El Niño coming, but we already see the change every day with more rain in Florida and drought in California," said Fried DeSchouwer, president of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Greenhouse Produce. "It"s creating an overall environment where imports are growing."
Here"s a look at some of the staple crops crossing at Nogales, Ariz., and San Diego this fall and winter.
Tomatoes peak from January to March but volumes should increase steadily in the runup to New Year"s Day, said Mike Aiton, director of marketing for Prime Time Internationall, Coachella, Calif. The company"s first Baja Mexico roma and round tomatoes crossed in late October.
"In Sinaloa, you don"t normally see tomatoes until at least the third week of December," said Manny Gerardo, a salesman at Bernardi & Associates Inc., Nogales. "Sometimes romas are a week before the tomato deal. I believe we won"t see any kind of volume until after Jan. 1."
Del Campo Supreme, Nogales, expected to have romas, grape tomatoes and some round tomatoes available in December, sales manager Jim Munguia said. Fall supplies are light.
Del Campo Supreme planned to start its Le Rouge-type elongated red peppers in mid-December.
Prime Time"s Jalisco grown red bell peppers started crossing at Nogales in late October. In December the bulk of its pepper varieties will be from Baja and mainland Mexico.
"We"ve been hit by three tropical storms and had to do some replanting," Aiton said Oct. 29. "The worst of it should be behind everybody by December, but there are going to be light supplies and high prices, I"m afraid, through November and getting close to Christmas on peppers and tomatoes."
Winter production of melons in the Mexico states of Colima and Jalisco could dip in the aftermath of Hurricane Patricia. To the north, sizing and supply on Sonora-grown honeydews were unpredictable.
"Fall rains hit two of Sonora"s three production areas, and that led to quality issues," Scott Vandervoet, a salesman at Vandervoet & Associates Inc., Rio Rico, Ariz., said Oct. 26.
The Sonoran crop will go through December if there"s no early freeze.
"There are honeydews crossed through Nogales from Colima and Guerrero," Vandervoet said. "Those crops have a questionable status after Hurricane Patricia."
Damage to roads or packing sheds can shake things up, he said, even if honeydew plantings were limited at the time.
"Nothing was actually in the ground for watermelons," Jesus Lopez Jr., sales manager for Nogales-based Big Chuy Distributing Co. Inc., said of the southern states after Patricia passed through. "We got lucky."
Fresh Farms, Nogales, began Hermosillo cucumbers in mid-September, and zucchini, yellow and gray squash soon followed, including organic squash. English cucumbers started around Oct. 19, and hard squash in early November, when the shipper"s fresh pickles also began. Production of those items plus green beans, eggplant and grape tomatoes was expected to be ongoing as December started.