With a similar acreage planted to last year and normal yields expected, the 2014 California garlic crop should be up a little from last year, when yields were off somewhat, according to Bill Christopher, president of Christopher Ranch LLC in Gilroy, CA.
At the same time, the amount of Chinese garlic in the market this year should be down, as China has a lighter crop, according to Jim Provost, managing partner of I Love Produce LLC in Kelton, PA, who had just returned from visit to China when The Produce News talked to him July 24.
The net effect is expected to be a little lighter supplies in the U.S. market than in 2013, when China had a larger crop.
The two producing areas have corresponding seasons, and the harvest in both areas was well under way as of late July.
"Size is good on the California garlic this year," said Christopher. "We are hoping for a good year. There should be a little bit more demand. I think there is going to be a little bit less Chinese garlic this year, and the price is going to be a little bit higher."
Some importers who "had not been bringing garlic in legally got caught," and as a consequence "I don't think there will be as much Chinese" this year, he said. "So there may be a little bit more push toward California garlic."
In spite of the sizeable Chinese crop in 2013, garlic prices overall held fairly well according to Christopher. However, the Chinese garlic "comes in waves, then goes away, and then comes in waves." That obviously affected the market. "I think a lot of the retailers, especially, want a steady supply, and they want a steady price," he said. "I think more and more customers in the United States are starting to go with that" wanting to have "a secure supply month in and month out. We are seeing that trend, and they are willing to pay a little bit fore for that, so that has worked out well."
According to Provost, new crop Chinese garlic was just beginning to arrive in the United States in late July. Quality was excellent but sizing was down a little, contributing to the lighter crop.
Provost confirmed that there is an ebb and flow" to the Chinese imports, with temporary oversupplies being followed by a correction.
So far this year, "it has been a strong market," said Louis Hymel, director of purchasing for Spice World Inc. in Orlando, FL. "There hasn't been as much Chinese garlic around, and the California demand seems to be as strong as ever, so the market has been strong."
Many factors justify strong prices for California garlic, Hymel said. Growers have "so many increases in costs that never seem to stop increasing," including those associated with California agriculture's water shortage. "This year has been a challenge," and next year will be even more challenging, he said.
David Grimes, proprietor of David E. Grimes Co. in Hollister, CA, which brokers garlic and also grows garlic marketed through several different California garlic companies, said this year's California Early garlic is "one of the nicest crops I have seen in a long time." It has nice size and nice color, and "yields are going to be pretty decent from what I have seen in the fields around here." The harvest was just beginning on the California Late variety. "I think the Late garlic is going to be a very nice crop as well," he said. Some growers will have good size; some will be a bit smaller. But "overall, I think it is going to be a good crop of garlic with good packouts."
The garlic out of Central Mexico this year did not size well, "and a lot of the crop was way down" on both red and white varieties, Grimes said. Currently, sizing "still seems to be an issue coming up into the Mexicali region as well."
As for Chinese garlic, "that is the big question right now," he said.
"We are hearing" that the Chinese crop may be down a little bit, said Michael Layous, who is in sales and marketing with The Garlic Co. in Bakersfield, CA, noting that the Chinese imports have a major effect on the market. "If they send a lot of garlic, the market is flooded." If they send less, "it has a significant effect on market pricing," he said. But "none of us really know how much they have or how much they are going to send over here." If Chinese imports are short for whatever reason, "there could be quite a void" in the U.S. garlic market" and I will be important for California growers to manage their inventory in order to keep supplying customers "until next June or July."