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More garlic in the market as California has good crop, China the largest in four years

The price differential between Chinese and California garlic is expected to be greater this year than it has been recently because of a larger Chinese crop than China has seen in the past three years. The California crop, expected to be up a little in volume from last year, is expected to be of very good quality with good yields, particularly on the California Early variety, which is the first variety harvested.

Growers and handlers of California garlic generally say that they have customers who prefer the California product notwithstanding the price difference and others who will buy for price regardless of origin.

006-Garlic-CropHarvesting California garlic for the fresh market involves a lot of hand work. Workers in a California garlic field are seen her clipping garlic by hand as part of the harvesting process. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Ranch)As of late July, the California Early harvest was pretty much finished and the California Late harvest was well under way. "Quality is very good," said Bob Ehn, chief executive officer and technical manager of the California Garlic & Onion Research Advisory Board. "The only thing I might be concerned about is the California Late," and that is a water issue. With severe cuts in federal water allocations on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, Ehn was concerned that some growers may need to cut water off early on the garlic not yet harvested in order to use the water to keep permanent crops alive.

"The California Early garlic got the water it needed," he said.

The water issue is expected to be of even greater concern next year, with early announcements that Westside growers should expect a zero federal allotment. That could affect planting decisions for next year, and it is something growers are concerned about. But for this year, none of the growers The Produce News talked to indicated that they expected to lose any planted acreage due to water shortages.

Last year, California yields were down a bit, but yields this year appeared to be "average to good," and the size of the garlic was also good, according to Bill Christopher, president of Christopher Ranch LLC in Gilroy, CA. "There will be plenty of fresh California garlic for the market this coming year."

Industrywide, garlic acreage may be up about 5 percent, said Christopher.

Ehn said that garlic acreage in the state, both fresh and processed is "up a little -- maybe 2,000 acres."

According to the 2012 California Vegetable Crop Summary released in February by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service, harvested garlic acreage in 2012 was 25,000 acres, up 1,000 acres from 2011.

"We have harvested all the early garlic, and we started a week ago harvesting Late garlic," said John Layous, a partner in The Garlic Co. in Bakersfield, CA, July 24. "It is going along nicely."

Water is "a big concern," Layous said. "We are in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley. Our water situation here is not good but probably a little better than 100 miles north of us. But what happens is that makes the ground here more competitive" because some of the crops that have traditionally been grown further north, have "moved south" because of water. In particular, "more trees and vines are going in," which is diminishing the acreage available for row crops such as garlic.

Spice World Inc., which is based in Orlando, FL, and has garlic growing and packing operations in California's San Joaquin Valley, is "always trying to produce the best-quality garlic available, said Louis Hymel, director of purchasing. "Mother Nature may not always be kind, but this year we do have a good looking crop in California, which will give our customers the opportunity to get some of the best garlic available."

This year, "the will definitely be a price difference between the California and the Chinese," Hymel said. "We could never get down to the Chinese prices. "

Spice World increased its garlic acreage "a little bit" this year, and so far it appeared that "the yields are going to be good this year."

"From what I am seeing, the local crop looks very nice," said David Grimes, proprietor of the David E. Grimes Co. in Hollister, CA, in early July. However, some of the Late garlic may be "kind of a mixed bag. I don't think the size is as big in some of the Late fields as we were thinking it was going to be this year."

In late July, Maurice A. Auerbach Inc. in Secaucus, NJ, was in the middle of a garlic deal out of Baja California, Mexico, and expected to be starting to handle California garlic "in a week or two," according to President Paul Auerbach. "We will have California garlic through New Year's" and possibly as long as March. He expected California to "have a decent crop" this year. "Everyone planted a little bit more acres," but "not significantly more" following "a couple of good years,"

"California garlic is excellent quality this year," said Jim Provost, managing partner of I Love Produce LLC in Kelton, PA. "It is heavy to the mid-size range" such as super jumbo, so larger sizes such as colossals and super-colossals "are going to be at a premium."

According to Provost, the Chinese crop this year is expected to be up in volume about 35 percent with a corresponding drop in price. It is not a record crop, however, but more of a return to a typical crop, he said.