(UPDATED, Oct. 28) Papaya volumes imported to the U.S. could drop 30% after Hurricane Patricia pounded the crop in the Mexican states of Colima and Jalisco.
To the north, vegetables and fruits in Sinaloa were comparatively unscathed.
Patricia, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the western hemisphere, was downgraded to a tropical storm as it weakened on landfall Oct. 24 along Mexico"s Pacific coast.
Andres Ocampo, director of operations for HLB Specialties, pegged the hit to the U.S. market at around 30% based on massive losses reported by the Colima division of ProPapaya, Mexico"s papaya producers association. About 50% to 55% of that state"s crop suffered wind damage, and 30% sustained water damage.
Mexico accounts for about 70% of imported papayas. Colima represents half of Mexico"s total and Jalisco has 15%. Surviving trees are likely to yield less than normal.
"Other states will most likely ramp up production, but as prices are likely to also go up in the internal market, it remains uncertain how much will the other producing areas be able to replace from the missing volumes," Ocampo said Oct. 26. "Guatemala and Belize are likely to increase volumes to cover the gaps, but that input cannot do much to offset such a large decrease in supply."
"Colima is also a strong producer of (limes) but it seems that those trees fared much better than papayas did," Ocampo said. The mango season already ended there.
Jalisco papaya damage was expected to be widespread, as that"s where the hurricane made landfall. There were also reports of tropical fruits damaged in Michoacan.
For crops grown in Sinaloa, Jesus Gonzalez, general manager at Crown Jewels Produce"s Nogales, Ariz., office, said he was awaiting reports from growers but anticipated relatively few problems.
"It seems like it didn"t do much damage," he said. "It was too far south of Sinaloa."
Big Chuy Distributing Co. Inc., Nogales, Ariz., sources watermelons out of Colima and Jalisco, but that fruit wasn"t planted yet, said Jesus Lopez Jr., sales manager.
"Those growing regions are more for the winter," he said. "They got some rains. We got lucky. Nothing was in the ground."
"The storm dissipated quickly," said Jimmy Munguia, sales manager for Del Campo Supreme Inc. "We had no damage."
Texas citrus, vegetables
In Texas, which had its own weather problems before Patricia came along and compounded them, there were harvest delays on citrus and vegetable items and reports that some onion acreage would have to be replanted. But it could have been worse.
"South Texas really dodged a bullet, considering the confluence of low pressure from the gulf, a cool front from the north and then a Pacific hurricane injecting moisture into an already unstable environment," said Bret Erickson, president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association.
In the Rio Grande Valley, 3 to 4 inches of rain fell in most areas Oct. 23-25, Erickson said, with some spotty downpours of 10 inches or more.
"Some areas may have had close to 20 inches over the last week, but that was very localized," he said Oct. 27. Heavy as it was, Texas had bigger rains north of the valley.
"It was set up to be a really bad situation, so a lot of guys prepared beforehand," Erickson said. Growers of citrus and vegetables picked what they could and then stopped harvesting for a few days. "For the citrus guys it may impact markets a few days out from when they were unable to pick, but it"s no big problem," he said.
"Some of the younger vegetable plantings have some leaf damage, but they weren"t too concerned because they knew it would grow out of it," he said. "There was some wind damage but nothing widespread or devastating."
Onions are planted across the valley and some were exposed to the heavier rainfall, but damages are expected to be modest.
Patricia dumped nine or ten inches of rain on Weslaco, Texas, said Don Ed Holmes, owner of Weslaco-based The Onion House LLC.
The Texas onion crop was about halfway planted when the deluge came, Holmes said. How much the crop will be affected could depend on what stage plants were in when Patricia hit.
"The stuff that was already up appears to be OK, some stuff that was coming up appears to be OK and the stuff that was planted in the last 10 days we"ll have to wait and see."
Overall, though, early reports suggested that Patricia didn"t wreak as much havoc as growers thought it would, Holmes said.
"It didn"t come as hard as we thought it would. I can"t believe there wasn"t more damage than there was."
That said, growers wouldn"t likely know the full extent of damage until the week of Nov. 2, Holmes said.
Markets Editor Andy Nelson contributed to this story.