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Mexico growers have expanded shadehouse acreage

by Rand Green | December 13, 2010
NOGALES, AZ — The amount of acreage devoted to growing tomatoes, bell peppers, squash, cucumbers and other vegetables in the state of Sinaloa and elsewhere in Mexico has increased steadily over the last several years, and this year is no exception.

In fact, following what were generally good returns for growers last year, sources say that there has been a significant amount of additional infrastructure built in Mexico for the 2010-11 season, much of it in the form of shadehouses and other structures for protected agriculture.

"Last year was a good season for everybody" in the Nogales deal “because of the Florida freeze last year” which resulted in high prices for many commodities, said Keith Connell, who is involved in sales at the Nogales office of Keith Connell Inc. “It looks like there should be more product this year, because plantings seem to be high, from what the growers are telling us. Hopefully we will have good markets this year,” but “that is yet to be determined.”

“I hear there is going to be a lot of peppers, a lot of tomatoes, a lot of Romas, just a lot of everything,” said Sergio Chamberlain, who founded SCC Fresh LLC here last year.

Some growers in the state of Sonora, Mexico, “made a lot of money last year, and they did overplant,” said Chuck Thomas, president of Thomas Produce Sales Inc. “I hope that is not the case out of Sinaloa,” the main growing region for the winter deal. “After a banner year, you always see some overplanting going on in a lot of items.”

The fall deal out of Sonora this year, particularly on squash, saw prices unusually low for the time of year, but that was not attributable only to increased production in Mexico. Local growing deals in the United States from California to Georgia ran longer than normal into the fall season with good production, due to exceptionally nice weather.

“We had a couple of bumps in some markets” for the early fall deal, said Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing for Fresh Farms. Prices “did dip for a couple of weeks,” he said Nov. 15, “but it looks like we are back on track now” and quality “has been really outstanding.” Although “we just wish we had a little better market on squash and cucumbers,” he said, “you can't blame the quality.” Rather, “there was such nice weather throughout the United States that local programs extended themselves.”

Regarding the bell pepper situation, Mike Aiton, director of marketing for o Prime Time Sales LLC in Coachella, CA, said, “Last year’s pepper market was extremely high” because of Florida’s weather problems, and this year “it looks like the plantings are up in mainland Mexico. So there is going to be plenty of product” if the weather holds and “the crops come in as they are planted.” He expects to see an abundance not only of peppers but also of tomatoes in Nogales “all winter long.”

“I hear there is more of the protected agriculture” in Mexico this year, said Alberto (Beto) Maldonado, general manager of Apache Produce Imports LLC. “Since the last season was a fairly good season, you might see some increases of some of the items.”

“There is going to be a lot of production,” said Francisco Obregon, who is in charge of new business development at IPR Fresh. “I think the acreage increased big time in the growing regions. It was a great year for most farmers, and most of the money went for infrastructure” including increases in shade houses. “But others increased their acreage, and that will turn more volume in town. It is not a secret. Everybody is talking about that.”