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Chinese garlic crop is largest in four years with lower prices expected

Prices for Chinese garlic have reached historic highs in recent years due to light crops, but this year's crop is expected to be up in volume by about 35 percent with a corresponding drop in price, according to Jim Provost, managing partner of I Love Produce in West Grove, PA.

For the past three years, prices for Chinese garlic have been "stronger than they have ever been" previously, said Mr. Provost, who had just returned from a three-week visit to China when he spoke with The Produce News in late June.

ILP-Peeled-garlic-grading-aILP Peeled garlic grading after cooling.U.S. Department of Agriculture market reports show that "Chinese prices have been very strong, right up there compared to what California garlic is typically marketed at in a normal year," he said.

Those strong prices are one reason for this year's increase in production, he said. As with farmers in many places, when Chinese farmers "see there is money to be made, they plant more."

In addition to the increased acreage, crop yields are particularly high this year, he said.

"This year was a convergence of not only the amount of acreage planted" but of higher yields as well, "so the combination of the two has led to the biggest crop in four years," Provost said.

Planting acreage is about 20 percent higher than last year, and yields are up 10-15 percent, according to Provost. The net increase is expected to be in the range of 1 million to 1.5 million metric tons.

It is not a record crop, however, but more of a return to a typical crop, he said.

Provost said he expects to receive the first peeled garlic of the season from China the week of July 8 and the first fresh garlic the week of July 15. He expects I Love Produce to be the first company to have new-crop Chinese garlic available in the United States.

After three years of "relatively tight" supplies with prices "comparable to domestically grown garlic," this year will be "an entirely different deal, with garlic at least 30 percent cheaper on average," Provost said. "The quality is excellent and the size is very good, so it is time to promote garlic again. We are offering ads for peeled garlic, bulk garlic and packaged five-bulb netted garlic."

Currently, there is a glut of last year's garlic from China on the market, as importers are cleaning up old inventories in anticipation of this year's larger crop, according to Provost.

"In order to provide our customers the freshest garlic, I made a trip to China in early June to inspect the new crop and settle some purchases with our growers," he said.

Provost said that in addition to looking at new-crop garlic, he had a couple of other purposes in going to China in early June. One was to attend the Asian Fruit Congress in Qingdao in the Shandong province of China, a coastal city of about 8 million people located about midway between Beijing and Shanghai. At the conference, he said, there were guest speakers who talked about marketing in China, with a focus on second-tier cities such as Quingdao.

In addition, I Love Produce has "a couple of offices in China" through which it exports U.S.-grown fruit into China.

"So I spend more time in China than I used to because ... the export side is a larger focus of what we are doing," Provost said.

China is "an important market for U.S. food products and is now our number one agricultural customer, according to the USDA," he said.