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The only thing new for Bernardi & Associates Inc., coming into the 2010-11 Nogales season, is the opening of an office in McAllen, TX, said Joe Bernardi, president.

Headquartered in Nogales, AZ, Bernardi & Associates also has seasonal offices in San Diego, in Turlock, CA, and in Fort Meyers, FL. When The Produce News talked to Mr. Bernardi by phone Nov. 30, he was in the Turlock office where he has been for the summer and fall, mainly working the California tomato deal. As always, he will head down to Nogales by the first of the year.

Bernardi & Associates is in the business of brokering tomatoes, mixed vegetables, melons and some other commodities from all growing districts both in the United States and Mexico. Nogales continues to be the biggest volume deal for the company, according to Mr. Bernardi.

With regard to the Nogales operation this year, "things are pretty much status quo for us out there," he said. But “we have opened an office in McAllen to facilitate our loading out of there. As more of the Nogales shippers direct product to McAllen” or other south Texas ports of entry, and as growers in eastern Mexico bring more product up through south Texas, “we felt that there was a need for us to be there. So we are on the ground there full-time from now on.”

Mr. Bernardi emphasized that the company's reason for opening the McAllen office is purely logistical. “It was a need for us to be there because of the volume of products crossing down there, and not to supply any different market that we weren’t supplying already,” he said. Bernardi & Associates was already selling and servicing “the whole country” from its other locations.

Staffing the McAllen office is Jose Suarez who has been there since Nov. 1 and “will stay out there,” he said. “In Nogales, we will have myself, Manny Gerardo and Alex Leon,” with Mariana Celeya as office manager and four full-time quality control inspectors.

Joseph De La Rosa and Rob Watrous will staff the Florida office, and the San Diego office as well as the Turlock office will be closed for the winter.

Looking ahead to the Nogales season, “we are going to see more shadehouse- grown product and more hothouse-grown product,” Mr. Bernardi said. “I have heard there is a little bit of a whitefly problem down there” on some of the open field crops, “but that is one of the benefits of shadehouses ... to prevent any insect- borne diseases.”

Growing conditions to date “have been real good,” he said, although “anything can still happen in December and January — and often does. But at this point, I think we are looking at good yields with good quality. And hopefully we will have the kind of distribution around the country that results in good prices for the growers and good marketing opportunities across the board.”

Tomato prices were low in California during the summer and fall, “coming off the high winter prices” in Nogales last year. “A couple of items during the summer, prices tried to firm up a little bit,” he said. But “for the most part our prices were on the lower end all summer and even the fall. In the fall we usually, at some point, have a little spike, and that really never happened this year.”

While new production in eastern Mexico may have contributed, Mr. Bernardi attributed the low prices more to the fact that “there was no knockout weather anywhere across the country, so every regional deal around the United States had product. Unfortunately, in our industry anymore, it almost takes one area to get hurt for another area to have a good year, and this summer, that never happened.”

The same scenario appeared likely to continue into the winter deals out of Mexico and Florida, he said. “There have been no hurricanes in Florida, and no abnormal rain, and the Mexican weather has been good.” Again, “anything can happen in December and January. We’re not out of the woods yet. But at this point, I would expect both areas to have good quality on big yields,” and that usually results in “a cheap tomato market.”

No one likes to see a cheap tomato market, Mr. Bernardi said. “It doesn’t do anybody any good anywhere through the chain. We need those moderate prices. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be in that moderate range anymore. We have the extremes — extreme lows or extreme highs — and not a whole lot in between, and that is where we need to be. We need those $8 to $12 markets that we never seem to stay in anymore.”