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With lighter Chinese crop and higher prices, California may dominate garlic market

With the harvest of California early garlic underway as of mid-June, Argentine garlic cleaning up, old-crop Chinese garlic winding down and the first arrivals of new-crop Chinese garlic still a month away, garlic marketers in the United States say that demand is picking up and market prices are firming compared to a year ago.

With a Chinese crop that is said to be about 25 percent lighter than last year with smaller-than-normal sizing, along with anticipated good production of high-quality garlic from California, some in the industry expect to see California garlic dominate the market for the balance of 2012 — a situation the industry has not experienced for several years.

“We started digging and pulling early garlic in the San Joaquin Valley today,” Bill Christopher, president of Christopher Ranch LLC in Gilroy, CA, told The Produce News June 11. “The crop looks really good. We didn’t get any late rains this year, so there is no staining on the garlic like there was last year.”

On the late variety, “we are all through watering and the size looks good,” he said. That, too, “looks like a very good crop.”

The price on Chinese garlic “has gone up in the last couple of weeks” because the stored garlic from last year is getting a little short, “and they haven’t shipped their new crop yet,” he said. “There is not a shortage, but there is not too much garlic in the market right now.”

That could change in August when the Chinese garlic starts coming into the U.S. market in heavier volume. “But for the next couple of months, supply and demand are going to about meet each other. There won’t be an oversupply,” Mr. Christopher said.

According to Jim Provost, managing partner at I Love Produce in Kelton, PA, who was in China during the harvest in late May and “was able to see the yields and the crop first-hand,” the crop in China is “down about 25 percent overall.” In particular, in “the main exporting region” of Jinxiang, “the size and yields of the garlic are greatly reduced.”

That is a contrast from last year, when “the crop was one of the best” and there was an abundance of large sizes. “This year, it will be a struggle to get anything bigger than a Super Jumbo,” Mr. Provost said.

“Since the start of the new crop, prices in China have increased by 120 percent,” he said June 12, and “the trend has followed in the U.S. market in recent days.”

He expected the first new-crop shipments from China to begin arriving in the United States in mid-July.

Meanwhile, with new-crop California garlic getting started, “the quality is excellent and yields are better than last year,” Mr. Provost said. “As a result, I think California garlic is going to dominate the market this year.”

David Grimes, owner of the David E. Grimes Co. in Hollister, CA, said regarding reports that China has a lighter crop, “That’s the rumor. With China you never know what happens. But the good news is some of their pricing has gone up, so hopefully that will help the California crop.”

Meanwhile, the crop of early garlic out of Baja California, Mexico, was just getting started, he said. “According to reports from down there, it looks nice. I am waiting to get my first loads of it to see if I can start selling some.”

Mr. Grimes oversees the production of organic early garlic and also some elephant garlic in the Hollister area. Unlike the garlic in the San Joaquin Valley, the Hollister area did get some late rain, which caused a little staining on some fields of organic garlic, he said. Other fields on lighter ground “look fine,” and the Elephant garlic appears to be unaffected, he said.

“Overall, the California garlic seems to be a decent crop this year. With the absence of late rains in the Central Valley, “we lucked out there,” so quality should be good.

David Anderson, field manager for Sequoia Packing in Coalinga, CA, said June 12 that “the early garlic is being windrowed now” and clipping should start “early next week.” The late garlic is drying and waiting to be windrowed in probably another two weeks.

“Quality of the early garlic is good,” and sizes appear to be above average, he said, adding that shipping was expected to begin “probably after the 10th of July.”

Acreage for the industry in California “I think is roughly the same as last year,” he said.

“We farm organic garlic, and this year, we have some of the earliest early California garlic,” said Gurdeep Billan, director of sales for Double D Farms in Coalinga, CA. “We are looking for a good season so far. It has been a dry spring, so we look for exceptional quality this year, and similar volume to last year.”

The harvest had already begun and would continue through July, Mr. Billan said May 31. “We will have California garlic available through the winter.”

“Right now is a transition time in the market,” Paul Auerbach, president of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc. in Secaucus, NJ, said June 12. The Baja crop was showing, and average size was smaller than normal. “The Mexican purple crop is finishing up,” although “we still have good supplies. It has good size and good quality.”

There was still some Argentinean garlic to sell out of storage as well, he said, adding that it has good condition and good size.

With regard to the Chinese garlic, “the market has risen very much” due to “a bit of a gap” between old and new crop. There was new-crop Chinese garlic “on the water” for July arrival, he said.

“The story with fresh garlic in general is after almost two years of being very high, [prices] came down a bit” during the past year, both for domestic and Chinese supplies, said Mr. Auerbach. “But now in the last two weeks, there seems to be an increase in demand and activity on fresh garlic, basically fueled by short supplies and a very high price out of China.”