Garlic has a rich history of being one of the oldest grown crops in the world. This crop is a staple in many cuisines across the globe. It is used in various food preparations such as meat, kimchi, vegetable curry, chutneys, and tomato paste. Besides its culinary benefits, garlic has also been used for its medicinal and antibacterial properties.
Ancient Chinese and Indian medicine prescribed garlic to aid respiration and digestion. Today, fresh bulbs of garlic are said to be rich in antioxidants and other beneficial compounds that are considered to impart health benefits, particularly to the cardiovascular system.
But over the last few years, garlic prices have been surging, creating a cause for alarm for consumers. But why is garlic expensive? This article will discuss why garlic prices are surging and how consumers can curb this growing trend.
Garlic is a member of the Lily family and is closely related to leeks, shallots, and onions. It grows as a bulb but has multiple cloves, each covered in a parchment paper skin. Raw garlic is hailed for its potent, fiery, and spicy flavor. It can be eaten raw, cooked, or roasted to mellow and balance its taste. Garlic is popular with small commercial growers because it is relatively easy to grow, fits well into rotating harvest, has a long shelf life, and is highly valued by consumers.
What is the Current Price of Garlic?
The retail price of garlic varies considerably. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a single pound of garlic, which usually contains a string of five garlic bulbs, costs around 1.425 USD on average. Supermarkets and grocery stores generally sell garlic in the $1.5 to 2.5 per pound range.
Some organic grocers sell garlic for between $4.5 and $5.5 per pound. For specialty varieties, direct market prices are selling each bulb for as high as $1 or more. Wholesale garlic prices have surged even higher. USDA data showed that a 15 kg bag of Chinese garlic recently sold for between $85 to $87. This is a 60% increase in price in just a few months since the year began.
Why Are Garlic Prices Surging?
Also known as “white gold” for its value, garlic is a critical staple in most kitchens. But if you’ve been paying attention to local media reports, you might have noticed that garlic has been seeing record high prices over the past few years. As with so many things, garlic is currently in short supply.
Additionally, Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. retailers have raised the price of garlic to the highest level since 2018. People in the industry, especially garlic lovers, are astonished by the price fluctuations in the market. The price of garlic has been affected by many factors, including:
Fertilizers and Pesticide Shortage
For starters, a lack of fertilizers and pesticides makes it especially hard for domestic and large-scale farmers for garlic producers to grow. Lousy weather, export cuts, and most recent sanctions on Russia have all fueled a severe fertilizer shortage, making it hard for garlic farmers to meet consumer needs. Also, the fact that it is only harvested once a year doesn’t help to make the situation any better.
Garlic prices on the local markets have doubled since the world went into lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. Garlic production in China slowed after the authorities sounded alarms over the spread of Covid-19. As a result, the Chinese government extended its national holiday to discourage people from traveling a long distance and coming into contact with infected people.
The price of garlic is expected to increase by 40% by the end of 2022. The coronavirus outbreak has affected the price of garlic in many ways, including:
- A rise in demand for garlic: Due to this virus, there has been a steady rise in demand for garlic by consumers for its natural immune-boosting capabilities and ability to protect consumers from covid-19 and other health conditions.
- Delays in international logistics: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, many shipping and transportation routes were hindered by lockdown in cities and countries affected by the outbreak and quarantine measures in other areas. Since imported garlic is the bigger chunk of the U.S. market, a shortage of garlic causes its prices to skyrocket.
- Shortage in labor forces: Farms and logistics companies saw a shortage since millions of workers could not travel to work due to lockdowns. As a result, Chinese garlic costs more.
Supply and Demand Dynamics
Americans currently consume more garlic than they produce. This is a result of a drop in domestic garlic farms over the last few decades. Also, since the Coronavirus outbreak, the demand for garlic has risen. For example, Christopher Ranch, one of America’s largest garlic producers, has increased the demand for garlic by 60% since the pandemic. This has seen the company sell all the garlic on their farms faster.
Before the epidemic, the farm used to sell its garlic to restaurants, grocery stores, and industrial buyers. But as soon as more people started making their meals at home due to lockdowns, the company went from selling 500,000 pounds of garlic a week to 800,000 pounds. This translates to an inconsistent supply of varied sizes at their local store or having to pay more to bring the bulb home.
Poor Weather Conditions
Some garlic-producing states have also been experiencing poor weather that has seen a poor harvest of garlic. Generally, Marlborough is an ideal garlic-growing country with its hot summers, cold winters, and fertile soils. But last year’s unusually wet winter has hurt this year’s garlic crop. For starters, the overly wet ground delayed planting. Then, come summer, it took a while longer to warm, forcing farmers to push harvesting back a few weeks. All these factors combined have seen a rise in the prices of garlic.
Disruptions in the Supply Chain
The widening coronavirus outbreak caused a lot of disruption in the supply chain of garlic in China- the world’s largest producer of garlic. Over the last few years, China has produced over 80% of the global garlic supply. However, Covid-19 forced China to curb its garlic exports, causing a shortage in the international market. According to the United Nations Comtrade data, more than two-thirds of the fresh garlic that the U.S. imports comes from China.
Rising Sea Freight Costs
Two years since the Covid19 hit, sky-high global shipping prices continue to rise, impacting cross-border garlic supply chains. Chinese garlic sellers are being forced to spend more to ferry their garlic to other countries
Garlic’s Long Growing Period
Garlic takes anywhere between 8 to 9 months to grow before it is ready for harvest. Harvesting of garlic usually takes place once a year, usually in the summer months. The bulbs are then sold over the following year.
Higher Export Prices
The higher domestic prices for fresh garlic have also driven up export prices, a trend that is especially apparent in exports to Europe. Currently, FOB (Free On Board) prices for fresh garlic delivered to Europe are between $1,100 to $ 200 per ton. This is equivalent to a no less than 40% increase in price compared to previous years.
How to Curb the Rising Fresh Garlic Prices
More and more people are being urged to grow garlic to curb the rising prices of garlic. Fortunately, growing garlic is relatively easy and can be done even in pots or balconies for city dwellers. Compared to other high-value crops, growing garlic is less complicated in terms of crop management. Here are a few tips for planting your own garlic:
Plant garlic in a warm, sunny spot in fertile, well-drained soil that doesn’t get too wet in winter. A raised bed works exceptionally well. Before planting:
- Break apart the garlic bulb into individual cloves.
- Choose the biggest cloves to plant, ensuring not to tamper with their outer covering.
- Plant each clove about 3-4 inches deep with the pointy part facing up.
- Space the cloves about 4 inches apart in neat rows.
Garlic needs little care when growing. Make sure to water regularly and weed between plants to reduce competition for water and nutrients.
The consensus is that you should wait to harvest garlic until most of the lower leaves have turned brown. Then, gently remove your bulbs from the soil, ensuring not to bruise them. Lay the newly uprooted bulbs in a cool, well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight, for two to three weeks. Once the roots feel dry and brittle, rub them off along with any loose dirt. Once dry, you can put your garlic bulbs in storage.
The Bottom Line
Garlic is not only used as a condiment but is also very nutritious, providing many health benefits. But the costs of the beloved fragrant bulbs have spiked rapidly between the border closures, the increased demand for cloves thanks to almost everyone cooking food at home, and the increasing prices of fertilizers and pesticides. But do not let the rising costs of garlic keep you from enjoying its robust taste and many health benefits. Instead, consider planting your garlic to maintain its steady supply in your kitchen.