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West Mexico vegetable season set to kick off with Nogales convention

by Rand Green | October 31, 2010
The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas' 42nd Nogales Produce Convention & Golf Tournament is scheduled for Nov. 4-6 in Tubac, AZ, just north of the border town of Nogales, AZ, which is the main port of entry for the preponderance of the produce grown in mainland West Mexico.

While some West Mexico produce items — particularly melons and squash out of the state of Sonora — start shipping a month or more sooner, the convention is timed to be a kickoff for the main season, with most vegetable products typically coming up in significant volume both from Sonora and Sinaloa by the end of November and many of them in time for the Thanksgiving pull.

The convention gives buyers from around the country an opportunity to visit with distributors in Nogales and growers from Mexico; to participate in educational symposia that will give them a better understanding of the industry; and to enjoy festivities and networking opportunities at the golf tournament, opening fiesta and closing gala.

FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer told The Produce News Oct. 26 that in spite of the down economy, response to the convention from sponsors and prospective attendees alike has been good.

"Every year, we set a goal to be a little better than the previous year, and it looks like we are on track to do that this year," he said. “So far, we have surpassed our sponsorship total for last year, and we are right in line with our typical numbers for attendance.”

Mr. Jungmeyer cited the Nov. 4 educational program as one of the highlights of the convention this year. That program consists of symposia that “bring together in each of the sessions two people” from different sides of an issue.

Issues and challenges related to border crossings and Customs will be the theme of one of the sessions, with Guadalupe Ramirez, port director for U.S. Customs & Border Protection in Nogales, AZ, and Andres Ruiz Manriques, administrator of Mexican Customs from Nogales, Sonora, serving as panelists.

Food safety, produce traceability and supply chain logistics will be discussed in another session that features Dan Bates, director of merchandising for W. Newell & Co./Supervalu, representing the retail side of the business, and Mike Hansen, senior director of BSSCC/SYSCO, representing the foodservice side of the business. Also on the program will be Elliott Grant, founder and chief marketing officer of HarvestMark.

“Also that same day, we are offering tours of some of the warehouses,” said Mr. Jungmeyer, with the Del Campo Supreme Inc. and the J-C Distributing Inc. facilities to be featured.

The popular golf tournament will feature rounds on both Friday and Saturday at the Tubac and Rio Rico courses.

The opening fiesta, with food, festivities and low-key music to allow for conversation, will be held Thursday evening.

The closing gala on Saturday evening will have a new feature this year, Mr. Jungmeyer said. “We are starting a new program to acknowledge and appreciate people who have been in the industry for a long time and left their mark.”

Called the FPAA Pillar of the Industry program, the name of the inaugural recipient of the honor was being kept a secret until the time of the presentation, Mr. Jungmeyer said, adding that “we are very happy to do something to honor what a person has done over their career.”

Chuck Thomas, president of Thomas Bros. Produce Sales lnc. in Nogales, and perpetually a key organizer of the event, said, “To tell you the absolute truth, I always see the golf as the highlight” of the convention. “This thing started out as a golf convention, and I think that is why most people come.”

That said, the educational seminars “have become more well attended over the last two or three years,” Mr. Thomas added. When the educational program was first added to the convention program, “it used to be you couldn’t get 20 people to show up, but lately we’ve been getting 50, 60 or 70 people,” he said.

The guided warehouse tours are of particular interest to people who “have never been here before,” he said. In addition to visiting the warehouses, “we take them to the border” to see what is involved in bringing the produce trucks from Mexico through the port of entry and into the United States.

With regard to the West Mexico produce deal this fall and winter, “one of the things we see” is that volumes are expected to be steady or up moderately on most items, said Mr. Jungmeyer. “The growing season has been good. Generally, most items are on target as far as timing.”

According to Mr. Thomas, who brokers the full range of items crossing into Nogales, some of the early products out of Sonora had quality issues due to weather problems, “but we’re past that now,” he said Oct. 26. “The weather has been nice. So now there is an overproduction of squash. The second set is coming off too good.”

Cucumbers were “just getting going” as were eggplant, and he expected green Bell peppers to be crossing in large volumes by mid-November.

In some areas, early-season rain delayed planting by a couple of weeks, he said. “So you are going to see a late start” on some of the vegetables from those areas.

Tomatoes usually start “in any kind of volume” around Dec. 10-15, but some Romas will begin coming in around November, and greenhouse tomatoes have been crossing in limited quantities “for about a month now,” Mr. Thomas said.

“The early deal is always a difficult deal,” said Chris Ciruli, chief operating officer for Ciruli Bros. LLC in Nogales. “We have very few items, and heavy volume on those very few items, so right now we have a lot of honeydews and a lot of zucchini squash.”

By mid-November, “we are going to add in eggplant, green beans and cucumbers, so we will have much more of a mix of product, and that makes it easier. We will start everything we are going to handle in November” with the exception of tomatoes, which for Ciruli Bros. will start around Dec. 20, and mangos, which will not start until March.

“Green beans are a big mover for November” as are cucumbers, he said. “There will be promotable volume on squashes going into the holiday. We will have green, yellow and gray squash, green beans, cucumbers and four types of eggplant — Chinese, Hindu, Italian and regular” — so there will be plenty of choices for mixers.