AMADO, AZ — Amado’s spectacular landscape might look familiar to fans of the 1955 film version of the musical “Oklahoma!” as, in the opening scene, cowboy Gordon MacRae appears riding his horse and singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.”
You don’t need to be a geography buff to recognize that this desert valley surrounded by jagged mountains is not Oklahoma. But Mexico’s Crisantes family, which owns Wholesum Family Farms Inc., recognized there is a great deal of value here beyond the striking scenery of the location, which, along with other Arizona locales, stood in for the real Oklahoma.
The third-generation produce family operates greenhouses in northern Mexico’s high Sonora desert and at sea level in La Cruz, Mexico. The family is now operating a very modern, brand-new greenhouse in Amado, which is about 20 miles north of Nogales, AZ. Dutch greenhouse design served as a model for many aspects of the facility.
Early in 2014 the 13-acre Amado facility was harvesting its second crop of tomatoes. The Produce News received a tour of the facility, guided by senior grower Edgar Torres and Jose Morales, the facility’s junior grower. Also leading the tour of massive facility was Wholesum’s marketing consultant Anthony Totta, who owns Grow My Profits in Kansas City, MO.
Except for one row producing cherry tomatoes on the vine, the entire production is cluster tomatoes on the vine. These tomatoes each have a weight of about 145 grams. There are four or five tomatoes on each cluster in the winter months. In the summer monsoon season, the number generally drops to four per cluster.
This facility is the first of four planned phases of Wholesum’s Amado greenhouse production.
Torres indicated the Crisantes’ recognized there are advantages to growing on both sides of the Arizona-Mexico border. A negative is that labor costs in Arizona are four times those of Mexico. But in Arizona come lower costs of fertilizer, gas and electricity. Shipping flats for these tomatoes promote “Arizona Grown”.
At any given time, employees work in the Amado facility, which is hydroponic and organic. The facility has food-safe operations. Traceability tracking is evident with electronic scanners at the end of each row of tomatoes. Pickers scan their identification cards on the readers to indicate the time and who picked those tomatoes.
The greenhouse applies a wide range of Integrated Pest Management practices. There are workers in the greenhouse whose responsibility is to carry yellow sheets of a sticky paper up and down the rows’ height and length to capture insects in a non-chemical fashion. The greenhouse also has beneficial insects to prey on white flies, russet mites and fungal pathogens that would otherwise damage the crop.
Recycled irrigation water for the long tomato vines is cleansed with ozone. The water is injected in a composted “tea” to add natural nutrients to the mix. Because the “tea” tends to clog the irrigation lines, there are two lines used, so one can work while the second is cleaned.
Carbon dioxide, a by-product created by enormous boilers to heat the greenhouse, is captured and pumped into the greenhouse air to enrich the tomatoes’ growing environment.
Plastic tubes, inflated with forced air to be about 18 inches high, run beneath each tomato row. The tubes have strategically placed holes to allow heat from the boiler to escape and evenly distribute warmth in the facility. Furthermore, pipes carrying warm water run through the fruited portion of the long vines to bring a heat source right to the fruit.