(Sept. 17) The Mexican greenhouse produce industry has experienced rapid growth in the past decade, and there are many reasons why open-field growers are making the switch to greenhouse production besides the country’s favorable climate and inexpensive labor.

“There’s an overall trend of open-field growers changing to greenhouse production. All growers are looking forward to it, and everyone is switching over,” said Jimmy Garza, general manager for Bebo Distributing Inc., Pharr, Texas.

Garza said greenhouse production advantages included higher yields, longer production periods and better overall cost-effectiveness.

“Everything is much more efficient,” Garza said.

Doug Wyrick, director of marketing for The Produce Exchange, Livermore, Calif., echoes those sentiments.

Wyrick said half the growers he sources from in Mexico have moved from open-field production to protected-culture production and some regions of the country, like Baja California Norte, have experienced this trend more than others.

“When you grow in a protected-culture environment, you have a larger window of harvest to increase yields, and you protect the quality of the crop from disease and pest pressures,” Wyrick said. “Another advantage is that you have the ability to grow undetermined varieties, especially high-flavor varieties.”

To grow high-flavored varieties, you need to be in a greenhouse, said Bryant Ambelang, chief marketing officer of San Antonio-based Desert Glory Ltd., which has almost 1,000 acres of greenhouse tomato production in Mexico.

“You must be able to control irrigation and pests. If you are not in a greenhouse, it is very difficult to have these issues under control,” Ambelang said.

Desert Glory has a total U.S. market share of 70% in the cherry tomato category with its NatureSweet Cherub and D'Vines-brand tomatoes.

In terms of quality and longer shelf life, most growers agree that greenhouse is the way to go.

“Buyers are demanding more greenhouse production because it means better quality and a more extended shelf life,” Garza said.

Not only are longtime growing families getting involved in the greenhouse business, but industry outsiders are cashing in on the trend.

“There is a very noticeable trend in Mexico, and building greenhouses is considered hip,” said Hugo Vlaminck, agricultural director for Grupo TripleH, Culiacán, Mexico, a grower-shipper that sources produce from shade-house growers.

“There are many businessmen, hotel owners and even musicians who are building greenhouses,” Vlaminck said. “This is happening a lot in the states of Coahuila, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas.”

Jeff Taylor, a salesman for Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif., said nearly everyone in Mexico’s greenhouse industry is planning to expand their acreage, especially in Culiacán, Sinaloa.

“All operations are dabbling with (growth), some in small ways, others in larger ways,” Taylor said.

Ambelang said that there are basically two reasons why people switch over from open-field to greenhouse production.

“Either you are going to produce high-flavor products, or you are going to have year-round production that will provide significantly more pounds per-acre or hectare, and there are many people who have demonstrated this ability,” Ambeland said.

Del Campo Supreme Inc., Nogales, Ariz., began to experiment with greenhouse production in 1995. Today, the company has 450 acres.

“It has been a very successful business for us,” said Willie Martinez, the company’s operations manager.

Despite the recent, rapid growth of Mexico’s greenhouse industry, Martinez said the country is still experiencing a learning curve. As time goes by, Mexican growers will acquire sufficient knowledge to better understand the industry.

Fried DeSchouwer, president of Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC, Vero Beach, Calif., said Mexico’s greenhouse industry has grown tremendously during the past five years.

“All the expansion we have seen in North America has manifested itself south of the border,” De Schouwer said. “The expansion has happened with high-tech facilities as well as field operations moving toward lower-tech shade houses.”

Cost efficiency combines with climate

Cost reduction and desirable climate conditions are both key factors in Mexico’s greenhouse growth over the past decade, DeSchouwer said.

“Taking into consideration greenhouse production has four main cost components (labor, energy, fertilizer and capital) Mexico has a lower (cost) factor for three out of four components, mostly due to favorable climatological conditions,” he said.

Cesar Campaña, president of Asociación Mexicana de Horticultura Protegida, A.C., Novolato, Sinaloa, Mexico’s association for protected culture, said Mexico’s climate is ideal for the greenhouse industry’s expansion.

“We have over 20,000 acres of protected-culture production in all of Mexico, and one of the reasons why we have seen this growth is because of our favorable weather conditions and our geographic location,” Campaña said.

While there may be many reasons for Mexico’s greenhouse boom, for Wyrick, the advantages of growing in a protected environment are easy to summarize.

“The bottom line is that you have less surface area, less labor, and you get a higher production,” he said.

Open-field growers making switch to greenhouses
San Antonio based-Desert Glory Ltd. has almost 1,000 acres of greenhouse tomato production in Mexico, and a total U.S. market share of 70% in the cherry tomato category with its NatureSweet Cherub and D'Vines-brand tomatoes, says Yves Gomiz, vice president and general manager of Desert Glory's San Isidro and Zapotlan operations in Jalisco, Mexico.