Mexican growers struggle with water issues

10/30/2012 01:48:00 PM
Tom Burfield

One of the biggest problems some Mexican growers face is one over which they have little control: water or lack of it.

“A lot of planting decisions and growing decisions are being based on availability of water,” said Mike Aiton, marketing director for Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif.

“It’s an ongoing battle,” he said.

Just about all growers in Mexico must deal with some water problems, Aiton said. But the situation seems to be most desperate in the Culiacan region.

The extent of the problem depends on exactly where a facility is located, what kind of wells have been dug and what a grower’s access to water is in his location, Aiton said.

Although lack of water has been a serious problem in the Culiacan area, things are much better in the Los Mochis growing region, said Carlos Ibarra, salesman for Tepeyac Produce Inc., Rio Rico, Ariz.

Los Mochis reservoirs already were 57% full in early September, and growers expected more rain, he said. He did not expect water to be a problem in that region this season — “but you never know,” he said.

It’s been raining in central Mexico where Bebo Distributing Inc., Pharr, Texas, sources its products, said owner Jaime Garza. But that wasn’t the case in the northern part of the country, where growers faced drought conditions.

“If we don’t get any rain this season, we’re going to be short of water in the northern part of Mexico,” he said.

He expects the region will get by this year, but shortages could be on tap for next season.

The region typically experiences wet weather from tropical storms or hurricanes, but Ernesto, which hit Mexico in early August, came in too far south to drop any rain in the north, he said.

The water situation seems to be improving in Sinaloa, where Nogales, Ariz.-based Del Campo Supreme Inc. grows its tomatoes and other products, said general manager Jim Cathey.

Rainfall in the mountains and in the valleys was starting to accumulate behind the seven dams in the state and was replenishing aquifers, he said.

The region had not reached the point where water was plentiful, he said, “but we’re in a substantially better situation than we were at the beginning of the summer.”

NatureSweet Ltd., San Antonio, owns and controls wells at each of its greenhouses in Mexico, said Kathryn Ault, marketing director.

Greenhouses use significantly less water than field operations, she pointed out. Also, the company recycles water for even more efficiency.

NatureSweet has been able to increase its production while reducing water consumption, she said.

“We really are committed to being as sustainable an operation as we can,” Ault said.

The water situation is at a “very critical point” in Sinaloa in west Mexico, said Fried De Schouwer, president of Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC, Vero Beach, Fla.

“It’s a tough situation that is not easily resolved,” he said.

Some growers were drilling wells but hitting salt water, he said.

Even though greenhouse production does not require as much water as field production, use of water for fields can mean there is less available for greenhouses, he said.

Daniel Edmeier, director of sales for Kingdom Fresh Produce Inc., Donna, Texas, said water is an issue for some growers in the Culiacan area, but he said Kingdom Fresh operates its own wells that are deep enough and provide enough water to meet the company’s needs in Torreon in the state of Coahuila.

Kaliroy Produce Inc., Nogales, Ariz., sources from Jalisco and Culiacan but is not experiencing water problems, said Ralph Felix, sales manager.

“There’s no shortage where we’re at,” he said.



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