Better California garlic crop expected

California garlic harvest is underway on a better crop for 2022.

“The first shipments of new crop garlic went out last Monday to consumers on the West coast and on the East coast, the first part of this week,” says Ken Christopher of Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, California. With more than 100 million lbs. of garlic in the crop, harvest is expected to last until the beginning of August.

There’s more optimism around this year’s crop out of California. “Over the last few years, there’s been erratic weather patterns. We’ve had warmer summers and cooler later springs than normal including a lot of rain and that caused a lot of complications. Garlic requires nice cold winters and really warm late-spring early summer to really come out perfectly. This is the first year in years we’ve actually seen that weather pattern,” says Christopher.

While volume is similar to last year’s crop of California garlic, the difference is in the quality.

Better quality this season
While volume is similar to last year’s crop, the difference is in the quality. The lack of late rains this spring on a ground crop like garlic means there isn’t a lot of staining on the garlic skin. “This means there are more white fresh bulbs available in the fresh market, which is the most valuable part of our sales model,” he says. Last year, Christopher Ranch turned to markets such as the industrial one because not all of the garlic was as cosmetically appealing.

The better growing conditions also mean the crop is back to being 100 percent grown in California. “Over the past few years we’ve had to bring in volume from Argentina, Mexico and Spain for certain customers because of the issues with our crop,” says Christopher. “But this year we’re not seeing those issues, so we’re a 100 percent California garlic program again.”

That predictability will help to meet the consistently growing demand for garlic. “About 10 years ago when I first started at the company, demand grew at a normal rate for a mature business like agriculture, so between 3-5 percent per year,” he says. “But then COVID hit and everything changed. We saw spikes in demand between 10-20 percent/year over year. We were happy to see that but it was also challenging because we only grow garlic one time per year.” Since the pandemic, growth in garlic demand has sustained beyond old trends. “I think it’s still due to families being accustomed to eating at home. People are going out a bit less,” Christopher says. “Garlic is now a central ingredient for so many dishes. As America becomes more diverse, we’re finding new and exciting ways to use garlic.”

Christopher notes that the lack of late rains this spring on a ground crop like garlic means there isn’t a lot of staining on the garlic skin.

Garlic costs to rise
However, even with the healthy crop, hefty inflation rates are pushing costs on growing inputs up, and garlic prices are anticipated to go up as well, depending on the item, by between five and 10 percent.

With that inflation in mind, Christopher notes that the federal government is looking at relaxing the tariffs on Chinese products coming into the U.S., including garlic. “Back in 2018, we successfully lobbied to have Chinese garlic included on that tariffs list and we’re going to work with whoever we need to to see that it remains on that list. That’s our near-term challenge,” he says. “While the government is right in trying to get inflation down, we still feel there’s an intrinsic risk to the garlic industry if Chinese garlic is taken off that list.”

For more information:
Ken Christopher
Christopher Ranch
Tel: +1 (408) 847-1100 

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