Sustainability has become a priority for melon growers and shippers in Mexico and Central America, importers say.
But conservation of resources is nothing new for some producers, said Allison Moore, spokeswoman for the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.
“I think if you look at Mexico, for many years, they’ve had to develop strategies to use less resources from the land because of the water situation,” Moore said.
“You have to maximize the efficiency of water usage so you’re not using a ton.”
Ecofriendly production comes in many forms, Moore added.
“You see a lot of people have drip irrigation, using plastic tunneling, which helps kind of conserve the inputs you have to put into them. You decrease the use of pesticides,” she said.
“A lot of people, to cut back on costs, are using integrated pest management. They plant barriers that might attract insects away from the crop.”
Such measures are common-sense tactics, Moore said.
“I think people do that because it makes sense, it saves money and conserves limited resources they have on their land,” she said.
“And, there’s always ways of new packaging, what kinds of boxes people are using, whether recycled cardboard or a waxless cardboard.”
Going green implies an array of measures, said Atomic Torosian, a partner with Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, which also operates an office in Nogales.
“You talk about melons, but I look at all produce,” Torosian said. “Everybody is working on ways to become more efficient.
Turning tractors to cleaner burning fuels, getting better mileage on trucks, putting in solar systems on buildings and coolers, and irrigation systems that are more friendly and use less water.”
It’s a happy coincidence that such measures can save a company money in the long run, Torosian said.
“Everybody is looking at ways to minimize their overhead,” he said. “By doing so, they’re becoming more green. Everybody is working in that direction.”
And, he said, that benefits the industry as a whole.
“I think it can be more cost-efficient if everybody looks at new ways to bring product to the stores,” Torosian said.
“We could all do more. I know people are looking at it. That goes as far as close plantings, trying to gain more volume on less acreage.
“There are just a lot of things going on out there to become more efficient — the banks are almost requiring you do more with less. Green goes along with that,” he said.
Brent Harrison, president of Nogales-based Al Harrison Co., said his company uses a growing technique in which watermelon plants are grafted to squashes’ root systems.
“That helps us fight diseases down there in southern Mexico,” Harrison said.
“In a humid environment, diseases are very prevalent, and they will take over fields. This is a method that has proven over the years and it should help us with higher yields.”
Harrison also pointed out that it also helps mitigate the need for chemicals, such as methyl bromide, which is being phased out.
Michael Warren, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Central American Produce, said his company was instituting green policies in various ways.
“For the most part, we switched out of the waxed boxes and we’re using a plain corrugated paper box that’s totally recyclable,” Warren said.
“At the soil level, we have rotational crops that we put in just to keep the soil fertile and loaded with organic matter. The plants are happy. We produce a quality product with those fields.”
The company’s growers rotate crops with various grains and grasses as a way to build organic matter in the soil, Warren added.
Other companies appear to be trying new green initiatives.
“We’re looking at trying to develop an organic program,” said Lou Kertesz, vice president of Fresh Quest Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.
“Everything we do is designed to be sort of ecofriendly green.”
It’s a business necessity, Kertesz added.
“In today’s society and culture, whether you’re producing in Central America, North America or South America, you try to be an industry leader and not a follower,” he said.
“We’re trying to lead. We are one of the larger producers. To differentiate ourselves, we want to be an industry innovator.”
Fresh Quest has moved to recyclable, waxless cartons, Kertesz said.
“Years ago, boxes used to come in waxed, but we had to get away from that when petroleum went up,” he said.
“We’re trying to keep up with what the demand is among the consumers and the industry.”
Kertesz cited, as an example, a comprehensive water filtration system at the company growing facilities.
“Not only do we use that for washing the fruit, but we also sell bottled water to local communities,” he said.
“If you have the infrastructure in place and you can reap benefits off of it, why not?”
Sustainability is central to the business strategy at the Giumarra Cos., said Nick Rendon, division sales manager of the Los Angeles-based firm’s Rio Rico, Ariz., office.
“We are having all our growers assess that,” he said.
“Most are doing a good job. Some have certificates from local governments for actions. We let our customers know what we’re doing down there. We try to keep as much as we can recyclable.”
Ladera Ranch, Calif.-based Dulcinea Farms LLC has a number of eco-friendly initiatives going, said Monique McLaws, marketing director.
“From the packaging side, we’ll work with our box vendors to remove the amount of corrugate while holding the integrity and quality of product,” McLaws said.
“That’s great for the environment and the consumer to minimize the amount of that kind of packaging.
“From a growers’ standpoint, our growers are extremely savvy on inputs and water management. They take a large initiative to make sure the inputs that need to happen are done in a very conservative fashion but give us the best quality,” she said.
Vice president John McGuigan also points to a new strategy Dulcinea is building that focuses on shipping product shorter distances.
“Being in the market, a locally grown grower, we’re expanding our growing base, especially in the East,” he said.
“By doing that, we’re lessening our carbon footprint. Reaching back in the East is the most important thing we can do to shorten the supply chain. Plus, we know how important locally grown is to the consumer.”