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Lisa Inc. expands pickle and Roma acreage, adds 100 acres of shadehouse

John Lichter, Lisa Inc. sales manager.

NOGALES, AZ — Lisa Inc., here, which has been in the fresh pickle (or pickling cucumber) business for almost 23 years and the Roma tomato business for less than a decade, continues to grow in both programs. This year, the company’s pickle acreage will be up 10-15 percent over last year, and its Roma acreage will see an increase of nearly 50 percent, according to John Lichter, sales manager.

“Most of our Romas are shadehouse,” Mr. Lichter said Nov. 8. This year, “we have put in right around [100 acres] of shadehouse for Romas” as that program continues to expand. “We are expecting almost 1 million packages of Romas,” he said. “Every year, we have increased, and our quality has gotten better every year.”

The company’s pickle production was at 1 million packages last year and is expected to be up from that at least 10 percent for 2011-12.

Lisa Inc. also does chili peppers. “We are still growing Jalapeños. We are growing Hungarian wax, banana wax chilis, and we are going to do a little bit of Anaheim and a little bit of Pasilla this year,” he said.

The company sells all of its products both on the fresh market and to food processors. The fresh-market demand for pickling cucumbers has “increased tenfold” over the past 10 years, Mr. Lichter said. Customers include terminal market wholesalers, foodservice distributors and retail chains. “The chains are starting to carry them more. They are great to eat. The skin is a lot thinner than a cucumber, and they are sweeter than a cucumber,” he said.

Persian cucumbers or mini-cukes also are “really good to eat,” but being more slender, they dehydrate more quickly than a fresh pickle, he said.

A family business, Lisa was founded in 1978. “My dad [Juan Lichter] and my uncle [Jose Lichter] started this business,” he said. Juan Lichter, 81, now is retired, but Jose Lichter, 82, who has been farming in Mexico since 1955, “is still in the office down south,” although his sons run the business now.

Farming and packing operations are located in the Culiacan and La Cruz areas in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. The farming entity is Agricola de Gala S.A. de C.V, and the company’s “Gala” label has been around for many years, according to Mr. Lichter.

Lisa’s main label is “7 L’s.”

On the farming side, all of the production is on drip irrigation, he said. There are third-party checks in place for food safety, with most aspects of the operation being Primus certified. Its packingsheds are certified, and the Lisa facility in Nogales also is certified. The company is working to get its fields certified.

The harvest season for pickles started fairly early this year, Mr. Lichter said. “We usually start the first week of November. This year, we started around the 17th of October.” Production should continue through the second week of May and possibly longer. “We might try going into June with pickles this year” with later plantings in the La Cruz area, he said. That is something the company has never done with the pickles.

He expected the Jalapeño harvest to start by late September and the Romas to start around the end of December.

With the new shadehouses, he expected the Romas to continue well into June and possibly into July, depending on how hot it gets.

The advantage of growing Romas in shadehouses was validated last year for Lisa. While there were problems with rain and freeze damage, the products in the shadehouses did not suffer as severely as the open-field production, according to Mr. Lichter. The company lost part of the crop on the outer edges of the shadehouse, but the inner parts of the field had good production and good quality. Based on that experience, the company decided to put in more shadehouses, and it expects quality to be very good this year.