MARKET REPORT – MARCH 3RD, 2017
This has been the most boring and uneventful winter to talk about that I can remember.
Weather challenges, compared to any other year have been minimal. So far. Oh, it did rain in California. A lot. Enough that Emergency water restrictions will likely be lifted for southern California, and for all intents and purposes the multi-year drought is pretty well done.
Now, this was a very unusual winter – a head-scratcher for meteorologists. There was a fairly week La Nina event in the south Pacific, which normally brings a warmer and wetter winter to the West Coast, but this year was definitely an anomaly. At the same time the Pacific NW, north to Alaska has been a record setter as well – one of the coldest, snowiest winters in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver etc. that we have had in many decades. And it hasn’t ended. Except for a handful of days, there has been snow on the ground at my house since Dec. 4th, more than 3 months. The garlic in my little patch was up and healthy in early February last year, and this year not one has pushed through to daylight. There’s snow flurries in the forecast for Vancouver for 7 of the next 10 days!
Why this is happening may be explained by weather in the Arctic, and over the Arctic Ocean, which has been literally bizarre. In some areas temperatures have periodically risen 30C above normal for extended periods. The Arctic Ocean has seen 5 million less hectares of sea ice this year than ever before – an astounding and chilling record, and temperatures this winter have been incredibly warm up there – nearly 5C above ‘normal’ on average, including many days of near or above freezing temperatures, even at the North Pole. We will leave it to the science folks to figure it out, but it’s both scary and fascinating.
All this info is leading up to the good/bad news for next week. As you are probably aware, there are two major vegetable growing areas in California – the Salinas Valley and areas around it, a couple of hours drive south of San Francisco, and the southwest deserts, east of San Diego in the Sonora Desert – Imperial, Coachella, Yuma. Salinas is too cold in the winter and the desert is too hot in the summer. The Salinas season, in general, is April to October, and the desert areas are November to March. A lot of larger farm operations “move” from one area to the other every year – Earthbound, Lakeside and many others. There is an expectation that it won’t be a perfect move in the best years, and the transition period has fits and starts that cause supply issues and choppy pricing.
Some years it is close to perfect. This year not so much. Some are calling it dreadful. Desert areas had little if any frost this winter, compared to 4 of the last 5 that saw temperatures drop deep enough below freezing to cause devastation. If anything, Yuma and Imperial were warmer than normal, and now heating up quickly. With all plantings speeding up ahead of schedule there has been a definite glut since mid-January. This time of year El Centro, right on the border, struggles to break 25C and 8C at night. Currently those high/low temps are 30C / 13C – 5 degrees above normal. So that’s one factor – warmer than normal all spring has advanced the end of the growing season there by 2-3 weeks, with many growers already wrapping up.
However, on the western side of the state, it has been cold and excessively rainy – in fact the rainiest winter ever recorded, at least back as far as 1895. Spring plantings are substantially delayed – not only from the cold, but flooded or muddy fields that wouldn’t allow tractors to start tilling and bed-making.
Bottom line is that the transition is going to stretch out for 6 – 8 weeks, and markets will be somewhat chaotic through to late April, if not early May. Prices on broccoli, bok choi and cauliflower have doubled over the past 2 weeks, and lettuce will be the next casualty, as limited supply creates a sellers’ market. So watch your retails and prepare to see some significantly changed pricing for next week on many items.
Here is a temperature anomaly snapshot for February 10th, showing temperatures across Greenland and the entire Arctic Ocean out of whack by 20 Celsius degrees, with the same stupidly high deviation across all of the western U.S. Over 5,000 daytime high records were slaughtered across the Midwest US during February alone. If you are looking at this in black and white, skip to next page.
In other news:
Avocado: The price increase we warned of a couple of weeks ago is creeping into selling prices. Our grower/partners at Pragor are trying to cushion this a bit, as we are to you, but the reality is that supply is down, prices are up, the Canadian dollar is down – all contributors. The largest is that with the highest prices coming from the U.S., most growers are now spending extra to have their orchards certified with USDA to be allowed to sell in America. What used to be called “Canadian growers”, who moved their fruit primarily to Europe, and also here are making the conversion. That was what the big strikes earlier this year were about. So the fourth factor that is pushing the price is Pragor’s growers selling at US import prices – a couple of bucks more a case.
Mexico Blueberries: This is a fairly new deal, really seeing good availability this year for the first time. Some clever folks realized that some areas of central Mexico had the right weather and ripening cycles to slot in between the end of the S. American season and beginning of the very expensive California crop. A nice little 6 – 8 week window. Prices will not come off – they are mimicking the normally high prices of late S. American, and early season California, it’s just nice to have some good continuity that sees this now as a 10+ month supply across all areas.
Grapefruit: One of the nicest pieces of grapefruit around is the original Red Riostar from Texas, and at the request of several customers we’ve brought in a shot of these, from what is a very narrow Texas season.
“Honey” Mango: Please say these words out loud: A TOL FO. Hard? Not really. Yet, because “mericans have a hard time wrapping their tongues around “Ataulfo”, the Mango Marketing Boards in the US have successfully convinced growers across the Global South to change the name to Honey, quit marketing Ataulfo, and make life easier. We will continue to call them by their real name – just don’t get confused and think that this is a new variety. It’s not. Speaking of mangos – the first Mexican Tommy’s make their preview next week, just a few weeks earlier than normal. Thanks for your support of our Peru Kent program, which has no wrapped up – and another $5,000 in Fairtrade social premiums for this season helps Apromalpi with vital health and safety projects in northern Peru.
Garlic: Wow – broke all records on B.C. Garlic this year – not talking about the volume, but the increased number of B.C. growers fighting the elements, breaking their backs and producing this astoundingly great product in enough quantity to sell into the wholesale market. In years gone by we managed to stretch the season until early January, but this year several growers adapted better long term storage techniques, and we made it until the first of March. We know it’s hard sometimes to justify such a high price for garlic, but it seems to get easier every year as consumers realize what a superior product this is. Big, hearty hardneck cloves, hot, spicy and oily!
Ginger: Here’s another smart play by Mexico. We talked to small growers in Chiapas going back to 2008 about growing ginger in the tropical highlands of southern Mexico. That was because, unbeknownst to us, there is already Mexican ginger growing there. Well, several people had enough of a discussion over the years that there is now a growing ginger industry starting in S. Mexico. Several people we know stepped up to the plate and paid for a lot of Peruvian ginger to get shipped into this area for seed, and now it’s happening. The cycle is perfect, as Peru winds down from a very over-played market this winter. And that’s all the news for this week.