Oversupply tempers organic growth rate on west Mexico produce

02/13/2012 01:59:00 PM
Mike Hornick

A soft, overripe tomato market ate into organic growers’ usual premiums in January and February. But grower-shippers remained hopeful for the long term about this and other commodities.

“For greenhouse organic tomatoes, it’s been as low as $8 and as high as $12 a box,” said Miguel Crisantes, president of Sunny Valley Organics, Nogales, Ariz.

“In a good year you’re at $14-18. It’s getting closer to conventional than we’d like to see.”

“People lost a lot of acreage in last year’s freeze and they replanted this year to make up for it, but the weather has been great in Mexico,” he said.

“A lot of open-field organic growers lost everything and came back this year with a vengeance. The market is feeling it. It’s completely flooded. We’ll take it as a sign for future years not to plant so heavily.”

Conventional tomatoes were just sitting in warehouses. Roma, grape, whatever — the variety didn’t matter. Organics weren’t prompting celebrations either, but product was moving, Crisantes said.

“If the market stabilizes, we see the potential of growing organic at a reasonable pace, not the double digits we had before,” Crisantes said.

“Last year was very successful, but we’re going to slow down and it’ll be in the single digits.”

Even so, Sunny Valley Organics is proceeding with a planned 5-acre greenhouse expansion in Brawley, Calif., that it hopes to complete by the end of 2012. The longer-term future still seems bright.

“Consumer interest in and awareness of organics is high,” Crisantes said.

“There’s an overall increase in organic produce in general. We’re hoping that trend continues.”

Another organic grower-shipper, Nogales-based Wholesum Harvest, broke ground on a 12-acre greenhouse expansion about 30 miles south of Tucson, Ariz.

Scheduled for an August completion, it’s the first of five that size on the drawing board. Organic beefsteak and vine tomatoes are to be grown there.

San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce reports greater customer interest in organic strawberries than tomatoes, so the company has doubled its Mexico strawberry acreage in the past few years.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group offers organic bell peppers through its Guadalajara-based partner Divemex, which grows in Culiacan and Etzatlan, Mexico.

They are marketing an orange pepper for the first time in organic, said Aaron Quon, greenhouse category director. Divemex’s fair trade-certified pepper program is in its second year.

At Al Harrison Co., this season marks the second year of its organic program in Mexican vegetables.

“We’re doing organics on bell peppers, a few cukes and eggplant out of a protected agriculture place in Culiacan,” said Brent Harrison, president.

“We seem to follow the conventional market. All the reports indicate strong volume in the next couple months.”

Rio Rico, Ariz.-based SunFed offers organic cantaloupes, honeydews and watermelons.

“This is an important category for SunFed,” said Danny Mandel, president.

“We are moving toward producing organic fruits and vegetables most months of the year.”

“This is still a category of limited size,” he said.

“If newcomers get the idea of producing large amounts of organic product, the category responds like any other category when it receives more product than the channel can accommodate. SunFed success in the category has been demand-driven.”

SunFed has had success, Mandel said, reducing shrink on organic products.



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