A field of napa cabbage grown by Val Verde Vegetable Co. Inc. ( Photo courtesy Val Verde Vegetable Co. Inc. )

Weather issues have blown through production areas of Texas and Mexico, but suppliers for the 2018-19 Tex-Mex winter deal say they anticipate full volumes, once the deal starts to peak for most items in December.

It may be a bumpy beginning, though, said Dante Galeazzi, president and CEO of the Mission-based Texas International Produce Association.

“I was speaking with one of our South Texas growers and he explained it best: ‘It’s going to be an interesting start to our Texas season,’” he said.

That’s due to heavy rains in the region, Galeazzi said.

“Weather has been a big factor for us in Texas. Most of our southern (Rio Grande Valley) and central (Winter Garden/Uvalde) growing regions have received a lot of rain over the last two months, and it’s impacted a lot of our plantings,” he said. 

As a result, crops across the region were experiencing delays “and some challenging harvesting conditions,” Galeazzi said. 

“When the fields are wet, it’s really hard to get equipment or move personnel around. Thankfully, weather conditions are beginning to improve,” he said. 

Some onions in Texas went in the ground before the storms hit, but “everyone is out there right now trying to catch up on plantings,” Galeazzi said. 

“We expect this will cause some of our growers to plant a little less acreage on onions this season, although it’s tough to judge the overall impact until we wrap up with plantings.”

The Texas greens were off to a slow start, Galeazzi said.

“The quality has been good on product that has come out of the field so far, but because of the slow start and weather, some of the areas are reporting lower yields and we may continue to see these low yields throughout November on some varieties and perhaps much longer on others,” he said. 

“We definitely foresee Texas cabbage being in high demand for November through January, due to the hurricane damages in Florida and Georgia.”

Suppliers frustrated

Suppliers echoed frustration with the weather conditions.

“We’ve have had our fair share of struggles this year when it comes to weather,” said Trevor Stuart, account manager with Edinburg, Texas-based Frontera Produce Ltd., which features cilantro, chili peppers, calabaza and cabbage. 

“Late September and October brought unfavorable rains that at times seem overwhelming.”

The crop went in, but bad weather did interfere with some planting, Stuart said.

“It didn’t hurt the crop as much as it hurt keeping our planting schedule intact,” he said. “We are caught up now, but there was a window where plantings were spotty. We finally got some blue skies (in late October), and crops seems to have rebounded just fine.”

Quality was looking good, overall, Stuart said.

Frontera started production on several of its local Texas items — including jalapeño, anaheim and serrano peppers, as well as calabaza squash — the week of Oct. 15, Stuart said, noting that quality was “exceptional” and demand good. 

“Over the last four years, we have slowly increased our chili pepper production, and this year is no different,” he said. 

“We have had such positive reception from our partner customers over the years that we have steadily grown that business as we see more and more (people) looking for local product.

Frontera was looking to start its Texas cabbage season in mid-November, Stuart said.

A series of storms that blew into Mexico generally spared the country’s prime vegetable production in Culiacan, but peppers just south of there weren’t so fortunate, said Tommy Wilkins, director of sales and business management with Donna, Texas-based Grow Farms Texas LLC.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of rain that came down out of that last hurricane that came through in mid-October, and it really hurt the hot pepper program,” Wilkins said. 

“It went south of most of the dry veg in Sonora. So, south of that is where a lot of the hot pepper production is, and a massive amount of acreage was damaged.”

Other production will compensate for any weather-shortened volumes, though, Wilkins said.

Cucumbers plentiful

Cucumbers already were flowing in from Mexico, with volumes increasing, Wilkins said.

“But because of all the rain and storms that came through Mexico, we’re not going to see a lot of production on bell peppers, squash and eggplant in this part of Texas until mid-December,” he said. 

Grow Farms will start its onion deal in December and follow with dry vegetables, along with avocados, Wilkins said.

The fall season has been “one of the most challenging in recent memory for Edinburg-based J&D Produce, said Bret Erickson, president.

“We experienced heavy rains that washed out many of our early plantings and/or thinned stands and also prevented us from being able to continue planting for days on end,” he said. 

“We also had a very strong cold front in mid-October, which left us chilly, wet and overcast for approximately 10 days.”

The Rio Grande Valley has not seen that type of cold front for that duration in over 100 years, Erickson said. 

J&D was harvesting by Halloween, but yields were 50% to 60% of normal, Erickson said.

“Looking at what we have in the ground and the severe weather we have experienced, we expect that supplies are going to be extremely tight through Thanksgiving,” he said. 

“Markets have been very strong on items like dill, cilantro, and methi leaf simply because weather has wreaked havoc on supplies.”

Erickson said he anticipates a strong cabbage market.  

“The cabbage market is going to be interesting this winter,” he said. “With all the severe weather that our friends in Uvalde and the Southeast U.S. experienced, I anticipate the cabbage markets are going to catch on fire and stay on fire through January.”

McAllen, Texas-based Val Verde Vegetable Co. Inc. started harvesting greens Oct. 15, said Max Schuster, vice president of field operations.

Val Verde’s bok choy and baby bok choy will start in mid-November, Schuster said.

October rain events delayed onion plantings, but they were “back on track” by the end of the month, Schuster said.

“We have had a variable start to the season,” he said, noting that much of the region had above-average rainfall.

Val Verde continues to expand its cauliflower acreage, and the company was expecting to start harvesting cauliflower Dec. 10, Schuster said. He said cabbage and napa were on track to start Dec. 1 and “look great.”

There also was a positive side to the abundant rainfall, Schuster said.

“The heavy rains that plagued Central Texas contributed to good inflows in our dams on the Rio Grande,” he said. “We are in the best shape for water supply in years.”

Citrus increase

Rain forced “some harvest delays” in citrus in October, said Dale Murden, president of the Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual.

“It’s dry now, with temperatures back into the high 80s,” he said.

Texas expects grapefruit volume of 12.4 million cartons. The forecast for early and mid-season oranges is 3.6 million boxes, and for valencia late oranges, 1.2 million. All are increases from last year, Murden said.

Quality was good, he said.

The Texas division of Los Angeles-based Wonderful Citrus expected a slight increase in grapefruit volume this year, compared to 2017, said Juan Torres, category director.

Quality was good, he said.

“Sizing will be on the smaller side, giving retailers great opportunity to promote,” he said.

Wonderful’s Texas orange crop will be down slightly, compared to a year ago, Torres said. 

However, he added, “there are no issues with promotable volumes.”