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Protected agriculture changes the game in Nogales

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In Mexico, acreage of protected agriculture (PA) is found mostly in the western states of Sinaloa, Jalisco, and Michoacán, followed by Sonora. The Mexican government has promoted PA as a way to increase yields, quality, and market access year-round.

While the total percentage of protected agriculture acreage in Mexico is only 2 percent, it continues to expand. From 2017 to 2018, acreage rose from about 105,000 to 126,000. Most PA is low-tech shade cloth, with greenhouse and macro-tunnel production each representing a little more than a quarter. Tomatoes dominate growing space, followed by cucumbers and peppers.

Raquel Espinoza, managing member and director of sales and marketing for Produce House, LLC BB #:300387 in Nogales, says all the company’s tomatoes are grown in shade houses, as are all cucumbers and bell peppers.

The same is true for nearly all (95 percent) of Del Campo Supreme Inc.’s BB #:163269 produce, which is grown in either greenhouses or shade houses. Del Campo Supreme’s top commodities are Roma tomatoes, followed by beefsteak and grape tomatoes, red bell peppers, and tomatoes-on-the-vine.

“Sixty percent is hydroponically grown with 40 percent on the ground,” says Diego Ley Vela, Del Campo’s general manager. “We just built another structure of 10 hectares in Jalisco,” he shares, “and we added heirloom tomatoes and shishito peppers. We also started growing blueberries last winter.” The company recently introduced a 1-pound mini pepper bag and a 10-pound heirloom tomato pack.

Chris Ciruli, chief operating officer of Ciruli Brothers, LLC, BB #:155976 says his highest yields come from commodities grown under protection, and there’s plenty of demand to meet supply.

“We continue to see growing demand for cucumbers that are shade-house or greenhouse-grown all year long, as opposed to prior years when buyers would prefer locally grown items.”

“I think this trend may be attributed to more customers focusing on year-long quality and continuity of supply,” he adds.

Other than cucumbers, Ciruli’s core items are Roma tomatoes and colored bell peppers. “We’re also growing some eggplant out of protected structures between Sinaloa and Zacatecas.”

All of Peppers Plus, LLC BB #:329205 peppers are produced in greenhouses, and growers are transitioning more land to protected agriculture.

“Our growing regions are climate-friendly to raising more covered structures,” says Bobby Astengo, managing director, which reduces “the risk of high winds and also protects from slight frost threats, all the while creating efficiencies such as pest control and the rewards of larger yields.”

This is multi-part feature adapted from the Nogales supplement in the January/February 2020 issue of Produce Blueprints.