Growers of pickling cucumbers have been facing challenges in recent months, with weather issues hitting production. Suppliers said hurricanes in Mexico last year resulted in planting delays. This was compounded by generally cold conditions in the early part of the year that are still continuing to keep production slow.
"There was a freeze during the first week of January which affected production in northern Mexico," said TJ Bauer of Can-Am Pepper. "This required some of the fields to be replanted. What was unusual and worsened the effect was that there was a freeze in both western and eastern parts which is unusual."
He added that although temperatures have warmed up in recent weeks, it is the cold nights that are causing the extended production delays. "Throughout January and February, cool nights have slowed production in the fields. Although the days are warm, night time temperatures have been in the 40s which is low. Normally, they should be in the high 50s or low 60s and this has made the biggest difference for us. A lot of the growing for cucumbers occurs at night."
Markets are high, but things set to change
With such limited supplies, the market is active and prices are strong. Those on contracts, including Can-Am Pepper, are working hard to fulfill them. "Between the hurricanes and cold nights, it's been a challenging year," Bauer shared. "The markets have been very high and it's been a challenge to find product to fill our contracts."
However, with spring approaching and more favorable weather forecast on the horizon, Bauer said the expectation is for improved production and greater supply to start filtering into the market. "We are looking forward to a good spring. We are predicting good weather for March and April and as a result, expectations are for supplies to return to normal during March as decent volumes return."
Can-Am Pepper has seen increased interest in its cardboard trays by a number of their customers. Bauer said with the added handles, the trays have the appearance of homegrown produce. He said more of their customers have been asking for them. "We have made the trays available in a range of configurations because most people want different sizes and weights. We can do all kinds of sizes up to a 20lb tray, which is an ideal size for customers looking to make fresh pickles."
Growers expanding to other regions
This is not the first year that cooler weather has hampered production. The reality is that frosts do occur during the winter in many of northern Mexico's growing regions. Can-Am Pepper is one of the companies that are trialing new varieties to help boost volume. The company also announced that they will be expanding into other regions to bolster their year-round supply.
"There are number of newer cucumber varieties around that are allowing for longer shipping times," Bauer said. "A combination of these varieties and also better growing methods are helping us to further improve yields. The cold weather events are also making us look around at different regions. From next year we will begin to grow in Nayarit and Michoacán which will complement our existing Culiacan fields to ensure more warmer night temperatures throughout the winter. At this week's American Frozen Food Industry convention in San Diego, this was one of the major topics and the buzz around the industry is that diversification is important as retailers and customers demand reliable year-round produce."