Shade houses have become so common in Baja California, Mexico, that many shippers today grow most — if not all — of their tomatoes under shade cloth.

San Diego-based Pinos Produce has been growing under shade cloth for more than 10 years and now grows vine-ripe, roma, cherry and grape tomatoes under protected agriculture, sales manager Danny Uribe said.

“It’s been a godsend,” he said.

The improvement in quality and yields “doesn’t even compare” to traditional tomatoes, he said.

“It’s like night and day.”

Most of the tomatoes Nogales, Ariz.-based Bernardi & Associates buys in Baja California are grown under protected agriculture, president Joe Bernardi said.

Protected agriculture results in better product, he said.

It typically has less scarring and is firmer, he said.

The biggest advantage to growers are the increased yields, he said.

About 80% of the tomato products from Oceanside, Calif.-based Fresh Pac International are grown under shade cloth, sales director Brian Bernauer said.

Fresh Pac has been expanding its shade house program over the seven years it’s been in effect. Eventually, Bernauer expects nearly all of its tomatoes will be grown under shade cloth.

Growing under protected agriculture is more costly than field production, he said, but the quality and yields are better.

Shade houses protect the fruit from wind, rain, fog and many pests, he said, and help improve quality and flavor.

Tim Biggar, salesman for Tom Lang Co., Escondido, Calif., said the company doesn’t ship tomatoes out of Nogales, in the winter, so he is thankful for the shade houses and greenhouses cropping up in Baja California.

“It’s a product I can sell year-round,” he said.

Protected agriculture has helped make Mexico a major force in the market, Uribe said.

The only thing holding the company back from expanding its shade house production is the limited water supply in its desert growing area.

“You just can’t put in more without jeopardizing water for your crop,” he said.