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Garlic producers upbeat about domestic garlic crop

Hopes were high for the 2016 domestic garlic crop as it followed a 2015 crop that saw numerous El Niño-related weather events, from floods to droughts to tornados, which wreaked havoc on many garlic fields.

Unfortunately, the 2016 crop was also down by 15-20 percent of normal, also due to inclement weather condition. Domestic garlic producers tend to say that the “norm” for a garlic crop is being redefined from year to year.

Hymel-LouisLouis Hymel“Spice World’s 2016 crop was down by 15 to 20 percent,” said Louis Hymel, director of purchasing and marketing for the Orlando, FL-based grower and shipper of garlic and other specialty items. “As of early June, we were finishing this year’s crop harvest, which is quite different. In fact, we are projecting an approximate 20 percent increase.”

Bill Christopher, owner of Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, CA, concurred, telling The Produce News that the company’s crop is also up this year. “Garlic crops over the past few years cannot be defined as normal,” he said. “This year we are a little above average. We had a cold winter, and garlic plants like the cold.”

Christopher added that the quality of the California crop is very good this year, saying, “The bulbs aren’t huge, but they are nice size.”

He explained that the market has changed somewhat in recent years. Many retailers are selling bulk bulbs, and they tend to like smaller sizes. “We receive a mix of size demands, and some do like larger bulbs,” he noted. “We try to fill every request.”

Christopher Ranch began harvesting in early June. The harvest will continue until mid-September.KEN--BILL-CHRISTOPHERKen and Bill Christopher of Christopher Ranch.

Christopher pointed out that most customers prefer the traditional white garlic, which the company is known to produce. “Some customers want the freshest possible garlic, so they’ll take the purple garlic when it’s fresh from Mexico. But California produces garlic with the highest Brix level and the strongest and best flavor,” he stressed.

Hymel acknowledged that the 2016 crop year had some issues with decreased pack-outs. “However, this year with the 2017 harvest in full swing, we have not had any issues,” he said in early June. “But we don’t make claims until everything is in storage and protected from Mother Nature. By all accounts, it looks to be a good crop in quality and quantity, and it is definitely an increased crop over last year.

“Harvesting is going full speed at this time,” Hymel continued. “And we expect everything to stay on track.”

Increased domestic crop of good quality garlic or not, how the market holds up in the coming year has a lot to do with what other countries — especially China — export to the U.S.

As of February 2017, according to mapsofworld.com, China continued to be, by far, the largest producer of garlic in the world, with 20,058,388 tons. India is the second-largest producer, but with only 1,252,000 tons produced in the country. The United States ranks No. 10, with 175,450 tons.

“It is difficult to get accurate information out of China,” said Christopher. “From some, we’ve heard that its crop is smaller. But from others we’ve heard the contrary, and that it’s up as much as 20 percent. We never know what’s actually going on until we’re into July and August and Chinese garlic is arriving in the U.S.”

Until then, Christopher expects prices to remain firm. But what occurs once China starts shipping to the United States may change the market climate.

“There are many factors that affect U.S. market prices,” Hymel pointed out. “However, prices in the past year reached record highs. We therefore expect them to come down in time.

“The California crop is looking good so far with increased yields and quantities, especially since Spice World increased its planted acres,” he continued. “Garlic from Spain will come in at lower prices, and there are still the unknown quantities that will come in from China.”