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Mexican grapes having difficult but good season

By
Tad Thompson

“Right now, the only thing for sure is there is a lot of uncertainty,” Miguel (Miky) Suarez said at the end of March, about two months before the managing partner and sales manager of Nogales’ MAS Melons & Grapes LLC expected Sonora table grape growers to begin shipping promotable volumes of grapes.

His input from Sonoran growers brought mixed signals, but one consistent message is that it won’t be a full crop of Sonoran grapes this spring.

Miguel (Miky) Suarez
Miguel (Miky) Suarez

He added, “that every year the estimates for total production are calculated lower than they actually are going to be. But this time I tend to believe it.”

Suarez said normal production in Sonora’s dynamic grape industry could easily produce 26 million boxes of grapes.  But in 2021, it may be a production of about 19 to 20 million boxes. Still, he noted, “that is a big number for sales in seven or eight weeks.”

Like the last two Sonoran spring grape seasons, Suarez said, “It looks like it’s going to be late again. But more than late, it is very uncertain what will happen.

“The beginning of the whole cycle is an accumulation of chill hours,” he said. “That was good in Hermosillo and Caborca. But the bunch count in most vineyards was lower than normal. The reason?  I don’t know.”

Suarez said there were low temperatures in Caborca vineyards, but the bunch count was low before the cold weather struck. The best guess from growers is that there has been very low humidity in Caborca. 

There are indications that there are especially low bunch counts with older varieties in older vineyards. An exception within this particular uncertain possibility is that Flame production “is close to normal. It depends on who you talk to.”

While low bunch counts were first reported to Suarez in mid-February, three weeks later the same grower said “it looked a little better, with more bunches on the vines. That is not what you want,” Suarez said. If, in fact, vines are producing bunches out of sync, “it will be a very uneven season. The growers want the vast majority of the production to come at the same time. You need that for applications to encourage elongation of the bunches.”

But of course, that application is done when berries are at a certain size. “If the vineyard has a few stages on the size of bunches, how do you do it?  It makes it very difficult for them,” he said. “It creates a problem on one hand. But on the other hand, there are not going to be very high peaks on production. They will be picking different bunches at one moment or the other.”

Suarez said “the acreage planted in Sonora would have produced no fewer than 26 million boxes for export on the conservative side if this year were normal. It would be at least that, if not more. But this is not a normal year. Before this, he thought it would be at least 24 million grapes. “I now think it will be 19 or 20 million boxes. That’s my opinion, looking from here,” he said.

“In general, I think we’ll have good supplies of grapes in June and even the last week in May, from Guaymas and the northern part of Hermosillo,” Suarez said. “So, those guys should have good volume, about May 20, probably.

“It could be a good season — although it will be a very difficult season because of moderated volumes. Because we’re still seven or eight weeks from starting, things can happen between now and then. It will be a very difficult good season,” he said.

Beyond its grape business this spring, MAS will be shipping vegetables, featuring squash and a new variety of melon, the Orange Candy. It produced Orange Candy in Colima and Nayarit a year ago.  Customers liked the melon very much and will be receiving a greater volume this year.

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