Beginning in 2012, Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. will import sweet bell peppers from growing operations in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica’s State Phytosanitary Service spokesman Erik Cedeño announced the news in mid-September. He said Del Monte has about 52 acres of greenhouses in Buenos Aires de Puntarenas. Del Monte officials confirmed the imports would begin in early 2012.

“Construction on our Costa Rican greenhouse should be finished in late November, and harvesting is scheduled to begin in late January to early February,” said Dennis Cristou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh.

“The peppers will be entering through four ports: Hueneme, Calif.; Galveston, Texas; Manatee, Fla.; and Gloucester, N.J.”

Cristou said the company has been working on the project for about three years. Del Monte to import Costa Rican bell peppersThe company expects “significant volumes” of green, yellow, red and orange sweet bell peppers from its Costa Rican hydroponic greenhouses. The peppers are planned for distribution under the Del Monte label through retailers, wholesale clubs and foodservice channels.

Del Monte has been working to expand its Central American operations in recent years. As part of that push it acquired Caribana in 2008, which increased its banana and pineapple production, according to Del Monte’s website.

Along with the physical expansion there have been regulatory hurdles. A protocol was signed in 2009 for the importing of fresh tomatoes and chili peppers to the U.S. from Costa Rica. It took three years to develop those protocols, according to the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture.

The protocol requires a Costa Rican government employee to be permanently based at packing plants and growing operations to watch for Mediterranean fruit flies.

Gina Monteverde, head of the Costa Rican Export Phytosanitary Service, said in the announcement that her department has inspectors supervising the sweet chili pepper crops on almost a full-time basis during harvest season. A 500-meter area around the greenhouse operations is also being monitored for the pests.