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Hurricane Bud threatens already-short Mexican grape deal

In the grape industry, a nugget of wisdom is that “small crops get smaller.”

Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing for Fresh Farms LLC, said that axiom proved true for the Mexican grape industry this spring.

The Mexican deal is not only smaller than forecast but is expected to finish early.

And then there is Hurricane Bud.

Molina-Grapes-ChicagoGiven that Arvin, CA, growers are late, there may be an acute grape shortage for the Independence Day holiday, Havel said.

But first, a little background: The late-April Mexican grape crop estimate for 2018 was for a 15-million carton season.

This was well down from the record-breaking volume of 21 million boxes for 2017.

But the industry survey, which is annually conducted in April by AALPUM, Mexico’s table grape association based in Hermosillo, is based on input from individual growers. The estimate is usually highly accurate, AALPUM Director General Juan Laborin, told The Produce News in April.

But on June 11, Havel, speaking by phone from his Nogales office, said this year’s total Mexican grape crop appears to be headed for a total of 12- to 13-million boxes. “It will definitely be short.”

For 2018, Mexican grape volume was expected to be down due to sporadic temperatures running from December into April. The bunch count was expected to be down overall. But the grapes on those bunches didn’t size up as anticipated, and, thus came a really-short crop.

Havel said the deal is now expected to end by about June 22, after initial speculation that some Mexican grape shippers would be in business for the July 4 holiday.

A forecasted factor to even-further shorten the Mexican grape shipping season is the looming approach of Hurricane Bud. “High wind and rain are never good for grapes,” Havel noted. “With this warning, people will try and accelerate their harvest.”

According to the Washington Post website on the afternoon of June 11, Bud was about 475 miles south of the southern tip Mexico’s Baja California and churning to the northwest at about seven mph. “It could bring tropical-storm conditions to popular tourist spots along that peninsula Thursday or Friday, including Cabo San Lucas,” The Post reported. On June 11, Bud was a Category 3 hurricane, packing 120 mph winds.

Havel said that Hurricane Bud was expected to hit Hermosillo, Mexico’s dominant grape producing area, by the morning of June 16.

Havel said that, given this forecast, growers will push their harvest to remove all ripe fruit by June 16. Either because of an early harvest, or because of storm damage from Bud, the Mexican grape deal may virtually wind down before June 22.

Group Molina, which ships grapes from Hermosillo, Jalisco and California, owns Fresh Farms as its marketing company. Havel said the Arvin, CA, deal won’t be shipping until after July 4. Given Mexico’s early conclusion, there may be a strong grape scarcity for the upcoming holiday.

Retailers had many promotions scheduled with Mexican grape shippers, but as the season and those promotions wind down, “now we’ll see what happens.” Havel said, “markets could be very strong until the finish.”