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Strong garlic market could last well into summer -- and beyond

by Tim Linden | April 29, 2010
With the Argentine garlic harvest completed, and the arrival of the new crops from California and China still a couple of months away, the strong garlic market that currently exists should persist well into summer, according to several U.S. marketers of the product.

"It's a little too soon to tell how the California and China harvests are going to end up," said Louis Hymel, director of purchasing and marketing for Spice World Inc. in Orlando, FL. "But we should have a strong market at least through June."

He said that mainland Mexico is currently the main supplier of new garlic, with the crop in Baja California, Mexico, slated to begin harvest in several weeks. He indicated, however, that the volume from Mexico will not be great enough to dampen the current hot market.

Jim Provost, president of I Love Produce in Kelton, PA, agreed, stating that there just is not enough supply to meet the current demand. While there are still storage supplies of California and Chinese garlic available, those supplies are dwindling and are not sufficient to fill the current gap. He said that Mexico is a big producer of garlic, but the country's population is also a big consumer of the product.

"Mexico is just starting, but they have a strong domestic market and they also sell to Europe. There is going to be strong demand for Mexican garlic this year in the United States," he said.

In fact, Mr. Provost added that Mexican buyers will probably be in the marketplace for California and Chinese garlic once those seasons begin. Bill Christopher, managing partner of Christopher Ranch Inc. in Gilroy, CA, also expects a strong market for the next several months and even into the new crop from China and California. "We expect that China's crop will be 20- 25 percent greater than 2009, but it will still be down from the 2008 crop. We are excited about the coming season; we think it is going to be strong for California."

He predicted that the current demand-exceeds-supply situation will last at least through the end of July, and he noted that Christopher Ranch has enough storage garlic to take care of its regular customers until the new crop begins although not enough to satisfy the needs of buyers looking for new supplies.

Mr. Provost said Monday, April 26, that the market for California garlic coming from storage, as well as the tail end of the Argentine crop, was as high as $55 for a 30-pound bulk carton. He said that Chinese storage garlic was selling for about $35 for a 30-pound carton. Mr. Christopher confirmed those prices and added that the $30-$35 market for Chinese garlic represented a huge jump "from last year at this time when Chinese garlic was selling for $8 a carton."

The garlic market has been very strong for about six months. Prices first topped $50 per 30-pound carton late last year, which was the first time many garlic marketers could remember a market that high. A significant drop in Chinese garlic imports was the main factor in the stronger market. Mr. Provost said that the current demand-exceeds-supply situation is worldwide, with strong garlic prices found everywhere.

Mr. Christopher said that the expected strong market at the start of the California season in July bodes particularly well for his company's newest offering: green garlic. He said that the company has been very successful in marketing the product, which is essentially a young garlic plant, harvested while it is still green. His expectation is that when California's new season gets underway, the retail sector will be very ready for the new crop and this relatively new product.