Sustainability may be one of the produce industry’s new buzzwords, but it’s nothing new in Mexico’s table grape business, shippers and marketing agents say.
“It’s really important from all types of recycling of water, recyclable materials, organic fertilizers, and electricity from solar systems for irrigation or packinghouses,” said Omar Abu-Ghazaleh, imports manager for Reedley, Calif.-based Pacific Trellis Fruit. “There are all kinds of things going on.”
But there have been for a long time, out of necessity, he added.
“It’s a third-world country and there’s a lot of restrictions and they have to compete, so they’ve taken the extra mile to compete to be compliant from all aspects,” he said.
Mexico has a head start on U.S. growers, in a sense, said Scott Terry, import/export sales manager for Nogales, Ariz.-based Malena Produce Inc., because they export to so many different countries.
“The grower I predominantly deal with is GlobalGAP-certified,” Terry said, citing an example. “He grows internationally for Japan, even. His sustainability, in my opinion, is one of the highest.”
And Terry said he has seen a lot.
“Having been born and raised in California agriculture, I’ve seen Mexico being at least every bit as high as our capabilities and product lines here, if not exceeding them because a lot of the ranches can be so isolated,” he said. “They’re very, very clean. They practice very, very high certifications and they don’t run into cross-contaminations because the ranches aren’t right next to each other.”
Nature’s sustainability requirements were in place long before industry mandates, said John Pandol, Mexico grape operations chief for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif.
“Water is a limited resource in the desert, and the Sonora farming industry has limited the number of wells and the amount of water pumped since the 1950s,” he said. “Development of new farm sites, which involves removing native desert plants, is very regulated.”
Megan Schulz, spokeswoman for Los Angeles-based Giumarra Cos., said sustainability measures are a matter of survival for growers.
“Consider producing grapes in a place where summertime temperatures reach 120 degrees,” she said. “This is the environment in Mexico. People, labor, water, food and infrastructure are all prized in Mexico. Therefore, the more efficient the operation, the better. It is necessary to use all resources in a manner that is sustainable and allows us to continue producing year after year.”
Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Marketing LLC has a multipronged program in place, said Atomic Torosian, a partner in the firm.
“It’s the mantra of a lot of retailers, and they’re making sure we’re doing our part,” he said. “We’re using more plastic returnable packaging for Mexico for several people. Everybody is on drip irrigation. They do recycling and also a lot of things having to do with solar panels. There’s a lot of things going on down there.”
Growers are in tune with what has to be done, Torosian said.
“They’re becoming more astute,” he said. “They get more mileage out of their tractors. They’re getting more bang for their buck. It pays off down the road. I can’t believe what they’re accomplishing. In some cases, they’re much more ahead of where we are in California and the West Coast, until you see the technology they’re putting into play.”
That technology includes high-definition TV pictures in growing areas that allow shippers to see close-ups of the product, Torosian said.
“There’s a lot of good technology that can be put to use for everybody,” he said. “It’s about growing grapes with size, color and flavor.”
The initiatives are almost countless, said Steve Yubeta, salesman with Farmer’s Best International LLC, Nogales, Ariz.
“They’re trying wherever they can to see which areas they’re able to address to be more compliant,” he said. “They’re using different packaging, different RPCs, trying to do our part as much as possible.”