Following a year that saw all kinds of El Niño-related weather events — from floods to droughts to tornados — that wreaked havoc on a number of crops, members of the U.S. garlic industry are anxious to move forward with more predictable weather and production.
“Harvest has begun and the crop is looking much better than last year,” said Bill Christopher, owner of Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, CA. “We had 30-40 percent less product than normal last year partially because of drought and a mild winter that prevented the bulbs from developing.”
To service its customers, Christopher Ranch also sources garlic from its growing partners in Mexico, Argentina and Spain. The company’s California harvest will run through September and store for the coming year.
Christopher added that with tariffs still in place on Chinese garlic, prices are almost as high as domestic garlic.
“There is still a world shortage,” he said. “Last year China was short and Argentina did not plant as much as usual. To fill the hole the demand on Mexico was strong. Now we’re selling the 2016 crop as fast as we can pack it, and we expect the market to stay strong going forward.”
Despite higher prices, Christopher pointed out that the cost of production has risen considerably, meaning that domestic producers aren’t benefiting from the higher prices.
Jim Provost, owner of Kelton, PA-based I Love Produce, said the company produces some garlic domestically and it works with partners worldwide to meet the year-round demand of its customers.
“Our garlic supply from Spain has grown in importance in the past three years and we have broadened the product line,” said Provost. “Spain grows excellent-quality product.”
Provost said that Spain, California and China are all major Northern Hemisphere garlic production areas, and their respective seasons overlap or run close with each other.
“Harvest is now under way in all production areas,” said Provost. “China has some earlier garlic varieties, but with transit time the first new crop will hit the U.S. in mid-July — about the same time that California and Spain will be available.”
He added that stored garlic supplies are at an all-time low, pointing the finger directly at El Niño.
“El Niño wreaked havoc on world garlic production for the 2015-16 crop,” said Provost. “Consequently the market has been very tight in the past year. As the new crop is coming on we’re down to the bottom of the barrel with stored product.”
Some relief will come from the three major production areas now harvesting, but Provost put that in perspective.
“Although Spain and California have good crops, China’s new crop will be less than normal,” he said. “Given that China produces 70 percent of the world’s garlic, its supply has the single greatest impact on the world market. Its reduced yield combined with the low levels in storage will mean the world garlic market will remain firm for 2016-17. Garlic prices are currently at an historical high, and will continue until new supplies begin hitting the market in earnest.”
Louis Hymel, director of purchasing and marketing for Spice World, headquartered in Orlando, FL, concurred that this year’s California crop looks very nice this year. The company produces in California and Mexico.
“Mother Nature has been kind to garlic producers the past few months, especially compared to last year when global inventories reached some of the lowest quantities in years,” said Hymel. “Many areas of the world are coming out of short supplies and are expediting shipments immediately after harvest. Now that Mexico and Spain are in full production, and with California starting up, the past limited availability is easing.”
He added that markets reached record levels during the shortage. And although it is still uncertain, prices could remain firm in the future.
“Recognizing that it’s impossible for all growing areas to be 100 percent problem-free, with minimal exceptions the current new crops around the world have had only minimal issues this year,” said Hymel.
If there were any positives resulting from El Niño, one would be how worldwide shortages opened a door for garlic producers in Spain.
Paul Auerbach, president of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc. in Secaucus, NJ, said that although Spain has had a presence in the United States off and on for many years, last year it made a sizable contribution to the U.S. demand.
“Prior to the past year there simply wasn’t a need for garlic from Spain, but shortages from other growing regions in the world gave them a strong foothold,” said Auerbach. “Once formed, healthy relationships tend to last, so I expect Spain to maintain a presence on some level in the future.”
In addition to Spain, the company is currently sourcing its garlic from Mexico and China, and Auerbach was looking forward to shipments from California as harvest was starting there.
“Indications we’ve received are that this year’s California crop is looking good,” he said. “This is good for the overall industry as it comes on the heels of last year’s weather issues.
“Markets were strong for almost a year because of shortages,” Auerbach continued. “Reports from China indicate it will be about 30 percent short this year, and without the larger size bulbs the U.S. prefers. This leads me to believe that markets will remain strong for some time.”
Auerbach added that he’s looking forward to a good season with high-quality product from its California partners.
“California having a healthy crop in quality and volume is very important to our domestic market, and important to our company,” he said. “We feel strongly about our relationships on both ends; procurement and our customer base. Our wish is for California to have a good crop for its welfare as an industry, and we look forward to supplying California garlic to our retail and foodservice customers.”
Source: Produce News