Protected agriculture in Mexico is growing at an annual rate of about 13%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
Greenhouse and shade house operations are concentrated in the states of Sinaloa, Baja California and Jalisco, FAS says.
Mexico’s Secretariat of Agriculture — SAGARPA — reports about 50,000 acres are under protected agriculture, with about 30,000 acres of greenhouses and 20,000 acres of shade houses and macro-tunnels.
The main horticultural products produced under this technology are tomatoes (70%), bell peppers (16%) and cucumbers (10%), the FAS says.
“The only crop we grow outside now is grape tomatoes,” said Jim Cathey, general manager at Del Campo Supreme Inc., Nogales, Ariz.
The company grows 100 acres of grape tomatoes in open fields, but everything else — roma, beefsteak and specialty tomatoes, tomatoes-on-the-vine and sweet, elongated red bell peppers — are grown in shade houses or greenhouses, Cathey said.
“The reason you spend the money for protected agriculture is better yields of exportable product,” said Chris Ciruli, a partner in Ciruli Bros. LLC, Rio Rico, Ariz.
The company saw a 50% increase in eggplant yields with product grown in protected agriculture, he said.
About 90% of the protected cucumber crop is exportable compared with 50% of the field-grown crop.
All of the product that Nogales, Ariz.-based Apache Produce handles is grown in greenhouses, said general manager Alberto Maldonado.
The company markets tomatoes, roma tomatoes, colored bell peppers and English cucumbers.
Apache Produce has been using plastic greenhouses for about 10 years, gradually increasing its volume.
The company gets the same yields or more with 300 hectares of protected agriculture as it does with 1,500 to 2,000 hectares in open fields, he said.
San Antonio-based NatureSweet Ltd. grows 1,200 acres of tomatoes in five facilities in three states in Mexico, said Kathryn Ault, marketing director.
Most of the tomatoes are grown hydroponically in a controlled environment to ensure quality and food safety, she said.
“It’s all about the control and the quality,” she said.
The popularity of protected agriculture has grown much more dramatically in Mexico than in the U.S. , said Mike Aiton, marketing director for Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif.
It’s been spurred by the fact that a protective environment is required to shield crops from diseases, pests and bugs, which are more of a problem in Mexico than in the U.S., he said.