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California garlic crop normal with good quality, Chinese crop down

With the harvest of both California and Chinese garlic under way, industry sources say that the California crop appears to be good quality with similar acreage to last year, while Chinese production is expected to be down about 7 percent due to slightly reduced acreage and slightly lighter yields following a huge 2013 crop.

“I just got a report that the first 25 loads [of California garlic] have come in,” said Bob Ehn, chief executive officer and technical manager of the California Garlic & Onion Research Advisory Board in Clovis, CA, June 24.Garlic-OverviewCartons of California garlic ready to ship. “It is usually the Fourth of July before we get really serious about harvesting. We haven’t had the insect problems that we have had in the past.”

A shortage of water available for agricultural use in California’s San Joaquin Valley has affected “where we can grow” garlic, but not the number of acres planted, Ehn said. “We moved all over the place,” from Kern County to Stockton, to find land that “had a source of water,” but “we maintained our acreage.”

Early fields harvested have had “nice bright white garlic,” he said, but it was “too early to tell about yields.”

“This crop is looking good as a whole,” said Michael Layous, who is in sales and marketing at The Garlic Co. in Bakersfield, CA. “The variety we grow most is late garlic,” which was not yet ready for harvesting. However, the harvest had started on the California early variety. “This year we planted some stuff down in El Centro [CA],” which has some minor bulb developmental issues, but not a big concern. “The company also has garlic in Huron, CA, which is absolutely beautiful.”

The Garlic Co. will start California Late garlic around July 20 in the San Joaquin Valley and around mid-August in the Salinas valley.

The company’s acreage is up around 200 to 300 acres this year. “I am hearing that as a whole the industry is up” and that there are probably “a few more acres” for the fresh market, Layous said.

Roughly speaking, the U.S. market consumes 300 million pounds of garlic a year, of that, the fresh market garlic is split about half and half between domestic and Chinese, he said. “I don’t know any reason why that is going to change with the 2014 crop.”

It is “anybody’s guess how many pounds [Chinese exporters] are going to send this way,” he added.

Last year, the market for California garlic was generally around $1.50 to $1.70, while the market for Chinese ranged from that and higher to as low as 50 cents a pound for certain periods. “I expect the same thing to happen this year,” he said.

“We are currently harvesting our Central California crop,” said Louis Hymel, director of purchasing for Spice World Inc. in Orlando, FL, in a written statement to The Produce News June 24. “We have been packing our Baja [Mexico] crop, and began last week packing our Central California crop, which is a little early this year. We are seeing a very nice quality crop, and with the cooperation of Mother Nature during the wind row drying process, we should have some beautiful California garlic this season.

“However, agricultural costs continue to increase every year, and the challenges are many such as the drought conditions,” he said. “We are continuously seeking better ways to increase yields in the most sustainable ways.”

Maurice A. Auerbach & Co. in Secaucus, NJ, had a very good season with garlic from Argentina this year, according to President Paul Auerbach. That crop is now finished, he said June 23. “We currently have Mexican garlic, both white and purple, on hand and look forward to the start of the California in a few weeks.” From what some of the company’s growers have said, “if nothing changes in the next few weeks, it should be a decent crop of garlic” with higher packouts than usual.

“Currently, we have the white garlic from Baja,” which is similar to the California garlic, much of it grown from California early seed, but grown on the Mexican side of the border, he said. “I’ve been selling that for a month and will continue to sell that through the summer and into fall” even after the California harvest starts.

There is not a tremendous amount of Mexican garlic in the market, he said, noting that Mexico does not seem to be as big a player in the deal as it was years ago.

As for Chinese garlic, he said, carryover from last year’s crop is still in the market and new-crop garlic has not yet arrived. “Everyone is waiting to see what the duties will look like for the coming year.”

The Chinese garlic crop appears to be about 7 percent less overall than last year, but last year was a sizeable crop, Jim Provost, managing partner of I Love Produce LLC in Kelton, PA, said June 24. “I think that means the market will be more stable this year, but there won’t be any more shortages.” The carryover from 2013 was around 300,000 metric tons, he said.

The fact that prices on Chinese garlic held better last year on the whole than some anticipated “I think is a function of the Chinese market maturing” and the traders getting “smarter about how to market [the crop] over a period of a year,” Provost said. Also, “the U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. Customs have done a better job of controlling the market and making sure that the people importing garlic do so on a fair basis. I think that has helped.”