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ATLANTA — Members of the garlic industry gathered Oct. 15 at the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel, here, for a breakfast meeting sponsored by Christopher Ranch LLC before the opening of the Produce Marketing Association’s 2011 Fresh Summit International Convention & Exhibition show floor to discuss the state of the garlic industry and some of the mutual challenges those in the deal are facing. A common concern was labor.

The Garlic Co.’s John Layous said that the company has been “seeing a little bit of an issue with labor” for hand harvesting. But he noted, “It seemed like the crop got harvested OK.” He said that yields were a bit better than many had expected.

Louis Hymel from Spice World echoed Mr. Layous’ comment about labor and said, “We struggled with the labor a little bit.”

One of the many representatives of Christopher Ranch present advised attendees, “Start talking to your congressmen about labor,” adding, “We hear [laborers] are all south of the border and won’t cross Arizona.”

Looking at the status of the garlic market, the consensus in the room was that inventories are high and movement is slow. Javier Usabiaga Jr. from Empacadora GAB Inc. told the breakfast meeting, “Mexico has been struggling a bit” with more inventory on hand than normal and a slow market. He attributed some of the conditions to competition with product produced in South American countries such as Argentina and Peru. Looking across the Atlantic, he said that Europe is using garlic produced in Spain, which had a strong crop, and China. He noted that in Europe, inventories are high and markets are slow.

His father agreed with the observation about the crops from South American countries. Javier Usabiaga, also from Empacadora GAB Inc. and formerly Mexico’s secretary of agriculture, said of the Mexican market, “We have a huge crop coming in from South America, we have large inventories and we have Chinese [product] back on the market.”

Jim Provost from I Love Produce predicted a brighter near future for the garlic industry. “There is reason to be optimistic,” he said. “There is not as much in storage as you may think. I have optimistic feelings that after the new year, the market won’t fall.”

Anthony DeAngelis from Christopher Ranch also is anticipating market improvements that he believes are already arriving. “We see in the Northeast a return to normalcy in demand for California [product],” he said. “We are back to a normal demand for our product.”