NOGALES, Ariz. — Tomatoes top the list of fruits and vegetables shipped through Nogales from west Mexico, with nearly 1.5 billion pounds shipped through the port of entry from September 2009 through August, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Over the years, the quality of tomatoes from Mexico has gotten better and better, said J.J. Badillo, director of diversified products for the Rio Rico location of Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.

Using new shade house and greenhouse technology, the company has expanded its tomato programs, making them consistent, high quality and food safety oriented, he said.

“All things customers are demanding is what the new technology has been able to do for the tomato industry,” Badillo said.

He predicts the company’s tomato program will continue to get even better.

Calavo has revamped its tomato packing facilities in Culiacan, Sinaloa, and added new equipment that will improve the firm’s mature-green and vine-ripe programs, he said.

“Of all the commodities, you probably see the most growth in the tomato commodity,” said Jaime Chamberlain, president of J-C Distributing Inc. “The tomato category is a large part of our volume.”

The company, which sources from one of Mexico’s largest grape tomato growers, is getting back into the grape tomato deal after an absence of a couple of years and will offer greenhouse-grown grape tomatoes for the first time.

Martin Ley, vice president at Del Campo Supreme Inc., said he is excited about the company’s tomato program this season.

The company plans to ship grape and roma tomatoes from northeast Mexico through Texas through January, overlapping with its first Nogales shipments from Sinaloa by early December. That program includes hydroponically grown greenhouse beefsteak, grape and organic grape tomatoes.

Farmer’s Best International LLC in Rio Rico expects to see its first tomatoes cross from Sinaloa the first week of December, said Steve Yubeta, vice president of sales.

Calavo expects to start its tomato program in mid-December but could start as early as Dec. 5 or as late as Dec. 25, Badillo said.

The program will kick off with mature-greens and a small number of vine-ripes through December.

Calavo should have a full range of tomatoes available by January, continuing until June 15.