Protected vegetable deals extend Mexico's reach - The Packer

Protected vegetable deals extend Mexico's reach

09/16/2011 01:14:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

Mexico’s vegetable industry isn’t just a winter deal anymore, and protected agriculture is the reason, growers and shippers in the deal say.

This year has been no exception, said Bobby Patton, vice president of marketing with San Antonio-based NatureSweet Ltd.

“Our year has gone extremely well,” he said.

“We continue to have double-digit growth. With that, we’re having growth in acreages. We’re building more greenhouses. We’ve had to because of the growth in the business in the U.S., primarily, but also Canada.”

NatureSweet ships tomatoes year-round, Patton said.

“We’re not in the business of being out during the winter season, so it requires the year-round growing,” he said.

The industry continues to grow, said Gregg Biada, vice president of Global Fresh Import & Export, which is based in Bonita Springs, Fla., and is a subsidiary of Springfield, Ill.-based Tom Lange Co.

“There are more acres being planted down there,” he said.

“It is year-round, but, for me, where my customers are located, it makes more sense for them to switch to the Canadian deal during the April to November time frame.”

When bad weather strikes, the value of the protected agriculture products is enhanced, Biada said.

“Field-grown, obviously, is more affected by weather than the greenhouse. When field is affected, everybody is chasing after greenhouse product.”

As the years roll by, the Mexico protected agriculture industry has built on lessons learned and perfected its craft, said Fried DeSchouwer, president of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC.

“They get better and become more efficient, and they will have significant quality available on a year-round basis,” he said.

“They still lag behind Northern producers when it comes to yield per acre. I would say that even though we have thousands of acres — Mexico when it comes to acres, is much larger than Canada and the United States combined — their yields per acre are way below those Canadian and American producers have obtained.”

How can they catch up?

“There are a couple of things,” DeSchouwer said.

“You extend your crop. If you have a longer season, you’re going to pick longer and you’re going to pick more per acre or square meter. Two, you produce in times where we have that are lighter, June through August. No. 3 is you look at crops. Overall management will enable you to get that better.

“No. 4 is having better tools like technology that enables you to produce more. Then, you start growing varieties that have greater yields. In general terms, it would be just plain and simple getting better at it and getting more experience, and that takes time.”

The effect of a year-round deal on the market is hard to gauge, said Chuck Ciruli, partner with Nogales, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros.

“You’ve taken it and stretched out the deal to different areas for the north and Mexico and even further south,” he said.

“You’ve stretched out where a lot of the stuff is coming to Texas now, so it’s putting Texas in play. It’s making Mexico more of a player, but you have a year like last year where you had this really hard freeze that even froze some stuff inside the protected agriculture. I think people are promoting it more.”

The industry is embracing all of Mexico’s climates and employing various modes of protected agriculture, said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

“Growers are beginning to use more greenhouse and shade house in west Mexico, but also central Mexico and other regions, you’re starting to see this trend expand out to other areas because of support from the Mexican government,” he said.

“Because Mexico has so many microclimates, you’re seeing a big extension of the season. Really, already, Mexico has production on a year-round basis, at least on mature seasonal factor.”

U.S. markets see more volume in tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers from Mexico today than before, Jungmeyer said.

“In the future I think you’ll probably see people trying new items,” he said.

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