Growers and shippers in Mexico’s protected agriculture business say they aren’t necessarily competing head-to-head against field-grown products.

Sometimes, the two augment each other, said Bobby Patton, vice president of marketing with San Antonio, Texas-based NatureSweet Ltd.

It’s not a matter of competing against field-grown product for shelf space as it is in pricing, and that can be challenging, said Gregg Biada, vice president of Global Fresh Import & Export, which is based in Bonita Springs, Fla., and is a subsidiary of Springfield, Ill.-based Tom Lange Co.

“There is competition when there’s Florida-grown product and Florida is in heavy volume,” he said.

“Retailers are going to support Florida and run Florida ads and what have you, so there is heavy competition. You see your volume numbers on your greenhouse go down when you have heavy production in Florida.”

There is competition between field-grown product and rival product from protected environments, said Fried DeSchouwer, president of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC.

“Several items, the gap is closing,” he said.

“The protected culture is taking over a share of what the field-grown had because it brings more consistent quality product to market.

“In return, low-tech doesn’t mean that much more when it comes to a price because the lower tech doesn’t command that much investment and it does offer significantly more yield.

“And you can produce longer, and now you have with a similar investment in your crop, you have a better return.”

DeSchouwer said there’s been a shift over the last 10 years to protected or semi-protected culture.

“Some products benefit from protected environments, at least in some respects,” said Chuck Ciruli, partner with Ciruli Bros., Rio Rico, Ariz.

“I think cukes are so much darker and straighter, and your yields are so much better,” he said.

“You get so many more of the high-end cukes. It helps the grower and gives your customer a better product.”

Open-field production sometimes has an edge in bigger volumes, said Alberto Maldonado, general manager of Apache Produce, Nogales.

“I think greenhouse competes well,” he said.

Portneuf, Quebec-based Savoura has expanded its greenhouse production into Mexico this year, and the company believes the protected environment enhances product quality, said Marie Gosselin, president and director general.

“There are a lot of field-grown tomatoes, but with the greenhouse tomatoes, we can be sure the quality is consistently high,” she said.

Some products wouldn’t do as well inside as outside, said Jaime Garza, owner of Pharr, Texas-based Bebo Distributing Inc.

“The greens need to be grown outside, and carrots and onions need to be grown outside,” he said.

“It’s limited what’s grown in the greenhouse. We’re talking about tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplant. If it needs soil, it will be grown outside.”