NOGALES, AZ — A season that began with the doldrums has become one of
the more profitable in memory for the Nogales produce industry with the only
apparent difference between brokers, growers and distributors being the
amount by which they have profited from production problems in other
Many of the players in border produce today were in junior high school at the
time of the last great Florida freeze in 1990 and have never experienced the
deluge of calls from panicked East Coast buyers seeking to fulfill contracts.
Some of them have seen drastic escalations and drops in prices, but few to
rival a fivefold increase in green bean prices or a tripling in the price of
tomatoes in a matter of days.
One of the deans of Nogales produce, Harry Sbragia, has been in Nogales
since 1966. He called the days after the Florida freeze "like nothing —
nothing — I have witnessed in my time here," as he adjusted his role at JMB
Distributing from green bean salesman to green bean rationer.
Chris Ciruli, chairman of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and
partner in Ciruli Bros. LLC in Nogales, expressed optimism about the
likelihood for a continued profitable season, but urged caution, too.
“Crossings are higher, markets are better and we're managing the outbound,”
he said. “We just need to remind ourselves that, for many, this is a 52-week-
a-year business — not a few weeks or few months.”
The produce year to date has been a healthy one with import figures on par
or slightly ahead of the 2009 season. Among the greatest volumes: 382
million pounds of tomatoes, 337.1 million pounds of cucumbers, 254.2
million pounds of squash, and 193.9 million pounds of bell peppers, 159
million pounds of watermelon, 79.7 million pounds of honeydew, 49 million
pounds of eggplant, 41.5 million pounds of chili peppers and 26.1 million
pounds of green beans.
Prices, however, show a dramatic change not suggested in the import
volume. Three months ago, the wholesale price of a 25-pound box of
tomatoes was about $9. That figure has now tripled. A 20-pound box of
green beans that cost $10-$12 during the summer and typically $25 or lesss
in the winter, is now selling for $50-$60.