Garlic production kicks off, alleviates nationwide shortage

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GARLIC RETURNS Freshly harvested garlic awaits transportation to Christopher Ranch’s Gilroy facility. The harvest season kicked off last week, and is expected to yield 100 million pounds of bulbs. Photo courtesy of Christopher Ranch

Garlic is back. For now, at least.

Christopher Ranch in Gilroy announced that its garlic harvest season kicked off last week, and the 100 million pounds of its California-grown product will soon fill store shelves nationwide, providing relief for grocers and fans of the so-called “stinking rose.”

But is the months-long garlic shortage finally at an end? Probably not, said Ken Christopher, executive vice president of Christopher Ranch.

“In the short, medium and long term, I would probably say no,” Christopher said. “I expect demand for fresh California garlic to remain very, very high.”

Christopher pointed to decisions made in June 2019 that resulted in the shortage. At that time, President Donald Trump approved an increase in tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, including garlic.

Since 2001, the Government Accountability Office has attributed more than $600 million in financial damages to the U.S. garlic industry from “illegal dumping” of Chinese garlic. Chinese exporters have flooded the U.S. market with cheap produce, Christopher said, and sell their products well below the cost of production.

As a result, Chinese garlic costs about $25 a box, compared to roughly $60 a box for California-grown garlic.

In July 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce blocked Shijiazhuang Goodman Trading Company of China from shipping garlic into the country, citing illegal “dumping” of the product, Christopher said.

While a boon for the remaining three major United States-based garlic farms, keeping up with the explosion in demand proved to be a difficult task.

Then, Covid-19 and the ensuing shelter-in-place orders hit. While the demand from restaurants nearly disappeared, it all shifted to consumers at home, whose pandemic-induced shopping frenzy of health-based products cleared store shelves nationwide. Health officials have stressed that garlic does not “cure” the novel coronavirus, but it can provide other health benefits such as boosting the immune system.

“The demand for garlic nationwide went stratospheric,” Christopher said, adding that it’s “been a bit of a nightmare” over the past three months.

Christopher Ranch was forced to import garlic from Latin American countries such as Argentina and Mexico to meet the demand, Christopher said.

As a result, shoppers found garlic of all different sizes and of all different qualities, and that’s if they were lucky enough to even find the bulb in stores.

“Our fans are crying out that they need product,” Christopher said.

The 100 million pounds of garlic this season is about a 10 percent increase over the previous year, according to Christopher, as the ranch planned for the rise in demand due to the tariffs. But of course, it didn’t expect a pandemic, he added.

To keep up with production, the ranch has added an additional shift with 60 new employees, according to Christopher.

Christopher Ranch has also furthered its safety measures, he said, such as mandatory temperature checks for its 1,000 employees, face masks and hand sanitizer stations, as well as eliminating facility tours. To date, no employees have contracted Covid-19, Christopher said.

“It’s been a hard few months, so it’s nice to be able to talk about something so positive,” he said. “It’s looking beautiful. It’s a point of pride that we get to bring it back out to the world.”