Grower-shippers say the extended growing season and improved quality of greenhouse-grown produce are worth the significant startup costs. Retail customers prefer the more consistent product.
Grower-shippers say the extended growing season and improved quality of greenhouse-grown produce are worth the significant startup costs. Retail customers prefer the more consistent product.

With the trend toward greenhouse production in Mexico, grower-shippers say several key benefits outweigh the expensive startup costs.

Mike Aiton, marketing director at Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif., said the cost of moving indoors is significant.

Still, Aiton said that most growers are willing to put up the initial expense when a future payoff is evident.

“You hope the payoff is that you’ll be able to enjoy a longer season. If you can harvest for a longer period of time, that’s more units from the same acreage,” he said.

Other benefits include higher quality crops, perhaps even with less input costs when you consider growers with protected growing environments might use less chemicals and other treatments.

“It protects crops from pests and disease,” Aiton said.

Growers say the country provides significant benefits that allow protected agriculture to flourish.

“Protected structures allow us to ship better quality products for longer periods compared to open-field crops. Quality tends to be better because the plants are not as susceptible to harsh weather as field-grown items,” said Sandra Aguilar, marketing manager, Ciruli Bros. LLC, Nogales, Ariz.

Some growers have noticed retailers request more greenhouse produce.

“Going forward, it is likely that retailers may show more preference for commodities that are grown in protected structures,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar suggests these requests reflect the benefits greenhouses bring to the deal.

“I think retailers are mainly focused on getting consistent quality at a competitive price and growing in protected structures enables us to provide our customers with that,” she said.

In addition, Aguilar said more consistent supplies mean an extended season, so the company can offer customers longer contracts.

Shippers say Mexico, specifically, is a great fit for protected agriculture because of the other benefits to year-round vegetable production.

“First, Mexico offers a lot of microclimates. When it’s too hot for production on the western side during the summer months, it’s already cooling off in the higher elevations of Central Mexico, so there are areas where it’s conducive to grow in the summer and in the winter,” said Fried De Schouwer, president of Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC, Vero Beach, Fla.

Other benefits include reasonable labor costs.

“Thanks to the favorable labor and energy conditions, we can be competitive in the marketplace,” De Schouwer said.

Jimmy Coppola, account and marketing manager for Westmoreland Sales, Leamington, Ontario, said food safety is also a factor.

“Protected agriculture is a good fit, not only for Mexico but in all areas, as it is found to be a safer environment for growing,” he said, mentioning there are fewer outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella and other illnesses.

“They can typically be found more in field crops than under glass or poly,” Coppola said.

Alfredo Diaz, CEO of the Culiacan-based Mexican Association of Protected Horticulture agreed.

“Sustainability, food safety and good quality fresh produce will be key elements in order to keep up with the demand of an ever increasing population, and to adhere to the new legislations that will ensure that the food the people pick off the shelf at the super market won’t make them sick,” he said.

De Schouwer said it’s important to remember that Mexico is the second-largest country when it comes to protected agriculture, after China.

“Mexico has seen a tremendous trend on the lower end but in the last three or four years, there has been significant growth on the higher-tech side of the business,” he said.

Greenhouse Produce uses medium to high-end greenhouses for all its production to maintain consistency.