The vast majority of tomatoes imported to the U.S. from Mexico in recent years were grown in greenhouses, says Alfredo Diaz, CEO of the Mexican Association of Protected Agriculture.
The vast majority of tomatoes imported to the U.S. from Mexico in recent years were grown in greenhouses, says Alfredo Diaz, CEO of the Mexican Association of Protected Agriculture.

Alfredo Diaz, CEO of the Culiacan-based association, said the reported total of all protected agriculture was 53,201 acres, according to the latest publication from Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture and their National System for Protected Agriculture from late 2012.

“This includes all technologies from small micro tunnels to high-tech greenhouses,” Diaz said.

Those numbers are doubtless even higher now.

“One of the key trends we’ve seen is that greenhouse acreage continues to blossom in Mexico,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

“You can control the elements so much better, so you have better quality with less blemishes and better yields,” Jungmeyer said.

In addition, competition plays a part in the spread of protected agriculture.

“When one grower moves to greenhouse product, the next grower has to compete with that product, so now we’re seeing a wholesale shift,” Jungmeyer said.

In fact, some say a time is coming when all Mexican tomatoes, and possibly other vegetables, will be grown inside.

“I think within five years, we’ll see very few field-grown tomatoes in Mexico for export,” Jungmeyer said.

Diaz agrees demand for greenhouse produce is growing and that market data shows it makes up a large portion of the American market.

“When it comes to greenhouse tomatoes, by 2013 the vast majority of the market was supplied with tomatoes that originated from Mexico, nearly 80% of all tomatoes reported as greenhouse-grown,” he said, citing numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service.

“This is a clear indication that greenhouse-grown produce is gaining popularity with the American consumer,” he said.

Others agree.

“The category is definitely growing and we feel the consistent high quality supply out of greenhouses will continue to displace field product,” said Jimmy Coppola, account and marketing manager for Westmoreland Sales, Leamington, Ontario.

Jungmeyer also expects to see the spread of protected agriculture in Mexico to new regions.

“We’ve seen a decent amount of growth in Sonora in the past several years. It’s really expanding there,” he said.

Sandra Aguilar, marketing manager, Ciruli Bros. LLC, Nogales, Ariz., also predicts an expansion. “We feel that more protected agriculture structures will move further south into Mexico to extend growing seasons, although the majority of Mexico’s protected structures are currently located in the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Jalisco and Baja California,” she said.

In addition, some growers have seen a transition from lower-tech to higher-tech structures.

“We do see a trend to develop semi- to high-tech greenhouse for newer builds in Mexico,” said Coppola. He expects the trend to continue.