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George Gotsis recalls his early years working in west Mexico produce deal

by Rand Green | December 20, 2010
NOGALES, AZ — Jorge (George) Gotsis Cevallos, owner and president of Omega Produce Co. Inc., here, was one of two first-year recipients of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas' new Pillar of the Industry award presented at the FPAA’s 42nd Annual Produce Convention Nov. 6.

The other recognition went posthumously to Roy Lundstrom, who had spent much of his long produce career at GAC Produce

Mr. Gotsis first began to work for Omega, his sister’s distribution company, in 1951. In time, he became a partner, and in 1961 he began buying the remaining shares.

FPAA Chairman Jaime Chamberlain, who presented the award, called Mr. Gotsis "a true leader and pioneer in the industry" and noted that he “is recognized for forging new directions in produce, importing mangoes in the late 1960s and table grapes in the early 1980s.” He is looked upon by Mexican growers as having “a character that is beyond reproach.”

The Produce News visited with Mr. Gotsis at his office in the Omega facility in Rio Rico Industrial Park Nov. 9, and during the interview, Mr. Gotsis recalled some of the early days of his 64 years in the West Mexico produce business. Following the end of World War II, for about five years prior to coming to Nogales, Mr. Gotsis worked with his father, one of the pioneers in growing tomatoes in Mexico for the U.S. market, helping with the farming operations in the states of Sonora and Sinaloa.

“I went down there in [June] 1946,” he said, and at the time his father had farming operations in three locations, the earliest being in Huatabampo in southern Sonora. When the crop was about ready for harvest, his father sent him south to a village near Bamoa in northern Sinaloa to bring back workers to pack the crop. After he had arrived in the village and recruited the necessary help, he called the ranch in Huatabampo, a process that then took about eight hours just to get the call through, and he was told, “Don’t bring them, because we froze out last night. Tell them we’ll come back for them in about a month to take them to Guasave” for the harvest there.

A month later, “we froze out there also” right at harvest time, he said. In another month, the crop in Culiacan was ready, and that one didn’t freeze out, he said, but his father had lost two-thirds of his crop in that first year.

At the time, the only two items that were grown in volume in west Mexico for the U.S. market were round tomatoes and bell peppers, Mr. Gotsis recalled. There were “no Romas, no cucumbers.” The cucumber deals began after the Cuban revolution when farmers who had been growing cucumbers in Cuba relocated their operations to Mexico.

There have been many changes in the west Mexico deal, of course, in the intervening 64 years since Mr. Gotsis started in the business, and in Nogales in the nearly 60 years that he has been with Omega, but what has not changed is that Omega Produce is still distributing Mexican-grown produce to customers around the United States.

Last year, “we had a very small deal” because “we lost two [packing] sheds” that Omega had been representing. That was because “we couldn’t get together” on such matters as financial advances for the crop. But this year, Omega has picked up another shipper in Mexico, “so we should be about the same as the year before last.”

The principal items Omega will be handling this year are Roma tomatoes, summer squash, winter squash, green bell peppers, red bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatillos, mini-cucumbers and “a few Jalapeños,” he said.

The products will come from three growing areas — Hermosillo, Sonora, and Los Mochis and Culiacan, Sinaloa. The farming operations consist of a total of about 200 hectares (around 500 acres) of shade house production, mostly for cucumbers, bell peppers and Romas, as well as open-field production, with both types of farming in all three areas.

“We have started with yellow squash” out of Hermosillo, and “will start tomorrow [Nov. 10] on winter squash,” specifically Kabocha, which “mostly goes to Japan,” he said. By late December, he expected all of the company’s vegetable items to be in full swing.

The products are packed in the “Omega” and “Tri-Nation” house labels as well as various grower labels such as “Elena,” “5 Reyes” “Roberto’s” and “Margot.”