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Official estimates for the 2010 spring grape crop from the state of Sonora, Mexico, were not due to be released until April 16, but as of late March there was general agreement among most importers of Mexican grapes with whom The Produce News talked that the crop would be neither exceptionally small nor exceptionally large.

Most importers expected a larger volume than last year for the industry as a whole, with figures in the vicinity of 14 million to 16 million boxes being the most frequently mentioned, but always with the caveat that with several weeks of weather to go before the start of the harvest, the picture could change. Total imports of Mexican grapes in 2009 were around 13 million boxes.

There was also a broad (but not unanimous) consensus that the harvest would start a little late and would be a little light in volume on the front end, but that the finish would be normal to strong -- again depending on weather. Many importers said they expected their first grapes to be harvested the second week of May, but some expected to start a few days earlier than that.

"What I have heard is that Caborca [the latest district in the deal] looks like they have really solid counts right now, and they are looking to start their deal on time as well," Allison Moore, communications director for the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Nogales, AZ, said March 26.

A "good guess" for the total crop "might be 15 to 16 million boxes," Ms. Moore offered, but "that is really, really preliminary still" and is dependent on "what the weather does."

"Our crops are coming along fine. We expect to have a full crop," said Gonzalo Avila, vice president and general manager of Malena Produce Inc. in Nogales. Perlettes, which will be the earliest variety to be harvested in the Hermosillo region, appear to have a "slightly light crop, but there will still be plenty of volume there." Based upon what the growers were seeing "in our fields up to now," he said March 26, Flames and Sugraones will have "regular crops." But it is "still a little bit early" to know.

"Right now the crop, volume-wise, seems to be normal, comparable to the 2008 crop of about 15.5 million boxes," said Jared Lane, vice president of sales and marketing for Stevco Inc. in Bakersfield, CA. The timing of the crop is "a little tardy," he said, and depending on the number of heat units it receives over the next few weeks could be anywhere from five to eight days later than normal. Stevco expected to start Perlettes around May 10, flames around May 15, Summer Royals around May 20, and Sugraones around May 26.

"A lot of things can happen weather-wise, but right now we anticipate excellent quality" and a "normal to slightly below normal" crop, said Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing for Fresh Farms in Nogales. "I think the big message this year is there is going to be promotable volume," with more promotional opportunities for green grapes than for red grapes, he said March 25.

"There seems to be some mixed messages coming out of Mexico as far as crop sizes and timing," but there is general agreement it will start later than normal, Shaun Ricks, president of The Grape Guys in Cutler, CA, said March 29. He said that many growers expected to start the week of May 10, and "a lot of guys won't start until the week of the 17th -- and that is just starting, that is not volume."

"I think this year is definitely not going to be a bumper crop by any means," said Miguel Suarez, sales manager and managing partner at MAS Melons & Grapes LLC in Nogales, March 30. "I think the potential for Mexico is anywhere from 18 to 20 million boxes on a bumper crop," he said, but his "guess" for the current season was between 15 million and 16 million boxes.

Mr. Suarez had visited the company's vineyards in Caborca the prior week, and based on what he saw, "Caborca looks normal," he said. "Nothing exceptional, but good."

Atomic Torosian, managing partner at Crown Jewels Marketing LLC in Fresno, CA, said March 26, "for us, it looks like our deal is going to be running a little late" with Perlettes starting around May 10 and Flames around May 14. The early crop out of Pesqueira "seems to be a little bit lighter than normal," he said, but the coastal area west of Hermosillo appears to be nearer to normal and "the Caborca deal will be above normal." Overall, "our guestimate" is "we could be looking at 13 to 14 million boxes" for the industry, although "it is still early to tell."

With the later start, the marketing window could be condensed from the usual eight weeks down to six-and-a-half or seven weeks, according to Anthony Martino, a partner at SGS in Traver, CA. "That could mean quite a bit of volume having to be pushed within those timeframes."

(For more on Mexican grapes, see the April 12, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)