AMHPAC, the association of Mexican producers of protected horticulture, is on track to meet its goals for traceability and food safety, chief executive officer Eric Viramontes said.

Culiacan, Mexico-based AMHPAC has more than 300 member companies. Together, they account for 80% of Mexico’s protected horticulture exports.

“By the end of 2011, we wanted at least 40% of our membership on board for the Produce Traceability Initiative, and I think we’re going to make that,” Viramontes said.

“We’re doing a strong campaign to bring all our membership into the PTI. By the end of 2012 everyone should have a traceability system.”

In August, AMHPAC and HarvestMark de Mexico started a program to offset growers’ PTI costs.

It has funding support from SAGARPA, Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food.

That’s part of a broader effort, AMHPAC’s Armor program, that’s also pushing the Global Food Safety Initiative plus social and environmental responsibility.

“We’re setting GFSI standards as our minimum bar and adding competitive levels from there,” Viramontes said.

“Today, 95% of our members are either above that bar or meeting it.”

Even as the growers get their own house in order — whether greenhouse or shade house — they’re keeping an eye on what their business partners are doing in Mexico and globally.

“We’re looking at what transportation and marketers are doing to secure the chain,” he said.

“If we’re doing a good job in the field, we want to be sure all our commercial partners are doing at least the same.”

Labor practices will be scrutinized too.

“Our industry is going to be looking at any product or equipment — fertilizers, or plastic for greenhouses — to make sure it comes from countries with fair labor and social responsibility conditions,” Viramontes said.

“Today, there’s no certification for social responsibility, but if we work with our partners at PMA, United Fresh and the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, we might come up with something that measures who’s doing a good or bad job.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, about 37,000 acres of fruits, vegetables and other items were grown in Mexican shade houses or greenhouses in 2010. That was up from 18,500 acres in 1999, and up 40% from 2007.

In 2011, growers continue to turn to protected options.

Some, spooked by a rare February freeze, may be less willing to trust their fates to the open field this winter. Or they’re responding to short water supply in Sinaloa.

“Water is definitely a challenge,” Viramontes said.

“The more you see restrictions in use of water, the more you’re going to require these (protected) technologies. It makes you take better advantage of the resources.”

In some areas, like the Culiacan valley, infrastructure for protected agriculture has grown 15% in the past year. The nationwide rate is 10% or 12%. AMHPAC members are increasingly branching out into specialty items, like mini bell peppers.

Viramontes isn’t worried about a repeat of February.

“Most growers are betting on the good weather of Sinaloa, not another freeze,” he said.

“They calculate that as something that happens every 50-plus years.”