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Record cold, smaller crop may make Chinese ginger scarce, pricey

A record cold snap in China along with a reduction in acreage will have ginger in short supply with higher prices, according to a leading importer of the product.

Unlike garlic, there are no official statistics kept on the planting area and yield of China's ginger crop, so the total yield is hard to estimate, according to Jim Provost, president of I Love Produce in Kelton, PA.

"One of the advantages of having our own office and staff in China is that you can get real-time information on trends happening on the ground in China," Mr. Provost said in a press release. "Even with no official government statistics on the Chinese ginger crop, we have been able to prepare and avoid any gaps in supply for our customers."

In the last three weeks of 2012, ginger prices have increased by about 50 percent, or over $4 per carton (or the equivalent of 15 cents a pound). This sudden increase is partly attributed to the cold weather and the fact that the 2013 crop is reduced.

According to I Love Produce, the total ginger planting area in China was reduced by about 20 percent from the 2012 crop.  

Because of the low price of ginger in the past two years, Chinese ginger farmers lost money and many of them are no longer willing to plant ginger, but turned to other crops such as green onions and potatoes. Compounding this reduction in planting is another 10-15 percent reduction in yield.

New-crop ginger is harvested in October and November, and then cured for a couple of months before shipping. Generally, it is ready to be washed and shipped in mid-January for arrival in February. However, record cold temperatures in the primary ginger growing area in Shandong, China, have made it very difficult to wash and dry the ginger properly for export.

Temperatures need to be in the 50 degree range in order for the ginger to dry and cure as needed. Temperatures over the last month in Shandong and northern China have been unseasonably cold, ranging from 14 to 24 degrees. As a result, it is very difficult to wash and dry the ginger, and shipments have been reduced a great deal. Until temperatures warm up, exports will be light, and there will be a gap in supply from mid-January to possibly the end of February.

Short-term prices for Chinese ginger will continue to push up. Chinese New Year is Feb. 10 this year, and the extra demand from China's domestic market will also put upward pressure on pricing.

Once the weather warms enough for proper washing and curing of the ginger, I Love Produce's team expects the market to stabilize, but prices will be higher overall in 2013 than they were in 2012.

Chinese New Year has become an important marketing event for fresh ginger in the United States with both Asian and American supermarkets.

"I would recommend retailers lock in ads for ginger early, as supplies will be tight in February," Mr. Provost said in the press release.