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MAS Melons & Grapes ships honeydews 10 months out of the year

NOGALES, AZ — MAS Melons & Grapes LLC, here, which continues to focus on honeydew melons, grapes and watermelons has production from various areas in Mexico giving the company, in the honeydew category, production 10 months out of the year, according to Miguel Suarez, managing partner.

MAS, which was founded 14 years ago, is a partnership “between four growers and myself,” Mr. Suarez said. Those four growers “represent about 65 percent of the products that we handle,” with outside growers providing the remaining 35 percent. “The partners are in Caborca [Sonora], and the non-partners are in Hermosillo [Sinaloa]“ and in Colima and Nayarit. The northern producing regions provide spring and fall production, and the southern regions carry the program through the winter.

Miguel Suarez

The company uses Brix sensors on its packingline in Caborca “to measure the sugar of each melon we pack,” Mr. Suarez said. “We keep getting more business with the technology we have.” The company’s melon program continues to grow, “and we still keep looking for ways to secure this 10 months that we target to have a supply of honeydews.”

Supplies can be affected by weather “not so much in the north but sometimes in southern Mexico,” he said. “Sometimes they can get hurricanes, and the high humidity is a little more challenging. So our focus is on building a bigger program in southern Mexico” to assure supply availability if weather problems diminish the crop.

While there are fewer weather challenges in the north, expanding the program to minimize weather risks is “our quest and our goal,” he said. The objective is to secure the honeydew supply from October to the end of July.

Although honeydews are MAS’s biggest-volume melon commodity and its biggest commodity overall, watermelons come next in the melon category, and the company handles cantaloupe as well. However, the company, by choice, currently is not exporting the cantaloupe into the United States.

After having discontinued for a time, the grower-partners of the company in Mexico have been growing cantaloupe for the last three years. They are growing new varieties and doing very well, “but we haven’t yet registered to import them to the United States,” he said. At one point, they were very close to getting certified, but then decided to focus on honeydew for the U.S. and Canadian markets.

“There are problems sometimes with cantaloupe,” he said, and no matter who is responsible for the problem, the finger gets pointed at Mexico, “and they start looking over here first.” Even for operations that are fully third-party certified, like MAS, and even when the source of the problem is ultimately determined to be elsewhere, all producers can be affected. MAS simply decided to avoid the risk of having its honeydew business in North America adversely impacted by any association that might be made with problems in cantaloupe.

The company therefore sells its cantaloupe domestically in Mexico and also exports it to Asia.

The new cantaloupe varieties produced by the company’s growers have netting that is not as thick as traditional varieties. “I think some of the problems with the cantaloupe” are due to the thick netting, he said.

MAS has not ruled out the possibility of exporting cantaloupe to the United States. “We are still thinking about it,” Mr. Suarez said. Business is strong in Mexico, “and we are starting to do very well in the orient with them, so we will see.”

The company’s export business to Japan continues to grow, he said. It increased by 50 percent from fall 2010 to fall 2011. MAS has had an office in Japan with one salesman for 11 years and was in process of hiring a second salesman whose name would be announced in January. The company is looking into other products for Japan in addition to the company’s traditional items. One product being considered is Kabocha squash.

Kabocha has grown in Mexico primarily for export to Japan, but it is starting to become a factor in the United States and also in Canada. As MAS diversifies its offerings for the Japanese market, it might bring Kabocha and some of the other new items into the United States as well.