Distributors of produce from West Mexico were hoping for a fruitful spring after a fall/winter season affected by rainstorms and cold weather.
“It’s been a very, very difficult season for all of us,” said Jose Luis Obregon, president of IPR Fresh, Rio Rico, Ariz.
“We’ve had peaks and valleys like we’ve never seen before.”
No one knows what spring will bring, he said, but he expected the weather to warm up with good production through the first week of June.
IPR Fresh will have bell peppers all summer from Jalisco, which will cross through McAllen, Texas. And the company was waiting for the new spring deal from Hermosillo that will include squash and cucumbers from the last week of March through the end of May.
“Hopefully, this new stage of the production will be going back to normal,” he said.
“It’s been an up and down roller coaster this season,” said Chuck Thomas, owner/president at Thomas Produce Sales Inc., Rio Rico.
Recent weather had been fairly good through the last week of February, he said, “but the damage has been done with all the bad weather we’ve had previously this season.”
He expected cucumber supplies to be tight until Florida starts in mid- to late March.
Bell peppers were low most of the season but were finally “showing some life,” he said in late February, and eggplant will get a boost with the arrival of Lent.
Tomatoes never were plentiful during the winter, Thomas said, but they finally were dropping into the low $20 range from the mid $20-30s. Romas were backing off the $30 range, dropping to $22-24.
But he said some growers who usually go to May or June may have lost so many tomatoes that they might finish their season significantly earlier than usual.
Squash was “substantially damaged” by the weather, with zucchini that normally sells for $6-8 going for $16-18, and good yellow squash selling for $28-30 instead of the usual $8-10, he said.
“Even the chili market has been on fire this season,” he said, with jalapeños selling for $18 that usually average $12-14.
So many weather events occurred throughout the fall/winter season that product had to be sold within Mexico because it could not meet quality standards to ship across the border, he said.
March and April should be good months for Nogales, Ariz.-based Divine Flavor LLC, said Michael DuPuis, quality assurance and public relations coordinator.
“It looks like we’re in good shape,” he said in late February.
The company will offer roma, round, beefsteak and grape tomatoes; slicer, European and Persian cucumbers; conventional and organic bell peppers and some squash.
Ranches in the Culiacan, Sinaloa, region are in especially good shape with “healthy production and healthy fields,” he said.
Most of Divine Flavor’s bell peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers are grown in greenhouses, so that helped keep volume from falling too far behind despite some weather issues, he said.
Divine Flavor will have conventional and organic seedless watermelon, seedless mini watermelons, cantaloupes and honeydews from Hermosillo starting in late March or early April and peaches from northern Mexico for a few weeks starting in April, DuPuis said.
“We had a very rough, long winter,” said Chris Ciruli, partner at Ciruli Bros., Rio Rico, Ariz.
The company’s Champagne brand ataulfo mangoes out of Chiapas should hit peak volume the second week of March, he said, and new spring plantings of cucumbers should reach decent volume by mid-March.
“We’re looking forward to a really nice spring cucumber crop,” Ciruli said.
Next will come the spring zucchini crop from Hermosillo, followed by honeydews.
After several months of double-digit prices and low volume, spring will bring “more favorable weather, more favorable volume and more promotable prices for consumers and customers in March and April,” he said.
With uncertainty sparked by the tomato suspension agreement, Rio Rico-based Peppers Plus LLC decided to stay with the status quo rather than plant more bell peppers, said owner Bobby Astengo.
“I’m glad we made that decision,” he said.
More bell peppers ended up in the marketplace than usual because a number of growers who reduced tomato plantings in covered structures replaced them with bell peppers, he said.
Peppers Plus focuses on red, yellow and orange hothouse bell peppers and also ships winter squash — especially the acorn variety.