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Mexico’s table grape body perplexed by first downward crop revision in 20 years

Smaller than forecast grape sizes have caused Mexico’s table grape producers in the northern state of Sonora to revise down initial estimates for a bumper harvest, although all the indications are that quality and flavor are meeting expectations. 

An initial estimate from the Association of Table Grape Producers in Sonora (AALPUM) in March 2022 predicted a harvest of 25 million cartons of grapes for the current season, which typically runs from early May through to the first of second week in July. However, this was later revised down to 21.3 million cartons; marking a similar volume to 2021.

 “This is the first time in 20 years we have had to revise down an estimate,” said AALPUM managing director Juan Alberto Laborin.

As to the root causes behind sizing being smaller than expected, Laborin says he struggles to explain why the phenomenon occurred this season. 

“This year, unfortunately we have had half the sizing we saw last season. We’ve never come across a similar situation,” he said.

“Everyone says it was the weather, but I am a grape technician, and if you could have asked for the ideal conditions for grapes to grow, that’s what we had. The temperatures were perfect for the sizes we wanted.”

In terms of quality and flavor, Laborin says the expected results were achieved albeit with smaller sizing than the previous season. 

With little in the way of rainfall in northern Mexico over the past two years, drought and access to water has also been a key concern for growers across the region, but Laborin says the grape sector in Sonora has been well prepared for the challenging circumstances. 

“I grew up with a shortage of water, so we look after and measure how we use it,” said Laborin, explaining that Sonora’s grape growers draw their water from deep wells whose source can be traced to New Mexico. 

In total, around 70% of the volume produce by AALPUM’s growers is exported north to the US, with remaining quantities shipped to Canada, followed by the domestic Mexican market. Smaller volumes are also shipped through third parties to Europe and Asia.

According to Laborin, one of the most significant trends that Mexico's table grape industry has experienced over the last 15 years has been the emergence of a strong focus on flavor and varietal development, with consumers seeking new and distinctive taste experiences. 

“Today, in Hermosillo and Guaymas – the area where we are based – more than 50% of production is accounted for by new varieties: that’s the added value we are bringing,” he explained. 

Such names, Laborin continued, included Sweet Celebration, Cotton Candy, Gummy Berries, Sugar Crisp and Sweet Sapphire, among 40 varieties in total, all of which are seedless. 

“These varieties have great sizing, crunchiness, appearance, taste, consistency, productivity and profitability for growers,” he said. 

All this despite the fact that Sonora’s table grape area has not increased in size in the past 15 years, according Laborin. 

“The planted area in Hermosillo hasn’t increased even 10%,” he admitted. 

“We don’t have more water. Therefore, our growth over recent years has been focused on varieties and increasing our productivity per hectare.”

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