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Mexican tomato volume expected to come on later than normal

There are mixed opinions as to how much acreage has been planted this year in vegetables and tomatoes for export to the United States, but there does seem to be a fairly wide-spread consensus that volume will be slower coming on than normal because of weather-related planting delays and the necessity for some re-planting of fields that were damaged by heavy rains shortly after planting.

Start dates for the first shipments may not be materially affected, 15-Nogales-CropThe largest-volume produce category exported from Mexico into the United States is tomatoes, which range from rounds and Romas to various specialty types. (Photo by Rand Green)but many distributors expect early volume to be lighter than usual. Products grown in shade houses or other protective structures were less likely to be adversely affected.

Most of the weather problems were due to heavy rains and high winds associated with two hurricanes that hit west Mexico, particularly Sinaloa, in September and October. Some shade houses were said to have been damaged by the winds.

According to some industry sources, winter vegetables appear to have been less affected the weather delays than tomatoes; however, that is not true for everyone. Some companies say that their tomatoes look normal but expected some of their vegetables to be delayed.

In terms of production and quality, the fall vegetable and melon deals in the state of Sonora went well from most reports. But squash, cucumber and melon markets in particular were extremely low through much of the season due to an oversupply situation, as competing domestic production in the eastern United States ran later into the fall than normal this year.

At the start of the Sonora deal, "everything looked good," according to Jorge Quintero Jr., managing partner at Grower Alliance LLC in Nogales. "Then the market crashed, especially on the watermelons and the honeydews."

In Sinaloa, "We had that big rain come through Culiacán last month, and it caused some delays," said Gonzalo Avila, chief executive officer at Malena Produce Inc. in Nogales. It also "caused some damage to the covers on some of the shade houses. The crops, for the most part, were only slightly affected. It wasn't major damage. More than anything else, it is going to cause some delay."

Some of the crops, including some of the cucumbers and pickles, "were not even in the ground," Avila said. "So they weren't affected in any way. And the ones that were, I think if anything they are just going to suffer a minor delay, no more than a week."

Since the big storms, "the weather has been nice recently," he said.

"Overall, there is going to be a little delay out of Culiacán because of the hurricanes that hit the last couple of months," said Jose Luis Obregon, president of IPR Fresh in Nogales. "There is likely to be a three-week delay" out of Sinaloa, with many vegetable items coming on in volume toward the end of December, rather than early in the month.

The season was off to "a slower start than normal" for Ciruli Bros. LLC in Nogales, according to Chris Ciruli, chief operating officer. But for Ciruli Bros., it was not tomatoes but cucumbers that were most affected. Tomato products appeared to be "running on time" with a normal start date around Dec. 20.

According to Joe Bernardi, president of Nogales-based Bernardi & Associates Inc., "I do think we are going to see the majority of the tomato products be late out of Nogales this year.” Where the deal typically kicks off in early to mid-January, "I think we are looking at late January before we see any real volume," and that is due to "rain from the hurricane that we had back in October, when product was just getting ready to be planted," he said.

So far, "the quality out of Culiacán has been very good on all the vegetables, and I think we will continue to see that," he added.

There was much speculation earlier this year as to how the new, higher minimum pricing under a new anti-dumping suspension agreement announced by the U.S. Department of Commerce in October would affect tomato plantings in Mexico. It is apparent that the higher floor prices did not suppress plantings as much as some feared, but it is unclear what effect they have had.

"From what I am hearing, there is less tomato acreage planted overall," and round tomato plantings are down more than Romas, said Bernardi.

For Farmer's Best in Nogales, many commodities are about five days later than normal, according to Steve Yubeta, vice president of sales. But the company has been fortunate to not experience weather delays longer than five days and has not had to do any replanting.

For The Giumarra Cos. in Nogales, which grows mainly in Hermosillo an Guaymas, Sonora, "everything has been looking terrific," said Gill Muguia, division manager. "We have had great crops and great weather. Everything has just fallen into place for us this year."