Better wages, living conditions and an intensified focus on social responsibility have enhanced the labor situation for the protected agriculture industry in Mexico, according to industry leaders.

“There’s adequate labor, and the growers are really, in the last five years, doing a lot to improve worker conditions, adding schools for children for the workers,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz.

Young children no longer are employed unless “they’re the right age,” which is a switch from the past, Jungmeyer said.

There have been other improvements, he said.

“I was impressed last year when I was down there,” he said.

“Saturday is always payday and you get paid in cash. It was always a nightmare for farms that had to deal with a lot of people who were paid in cash. Now, a lot of them have an ATM located at their facility and the workers are being paid with ATM cards. I think that’s a little thing that’s improving the lives of the workers in a more modern age and certainly it’s a lot more efficient for growers.”

The labor situation is very good this year, and part of the reason is tougher scrutiny of undocumented workers in the U.S., said Fried DeSchouwer, president of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC.

Those workers have returned to Mexico and brought some valuable skills with them, he said, including knowledge of modern technology.

Wages have improved, too, as manufacturers have moved in and created a competitive marketplace for workers, DeSchouwer said.

But wages are still less costly than in the U.S., said Jaime Garza, owner of Pharr, Texas-based Bebo Distributing Inc.

“That’s why it’s growing more and more down there than in the U.S., because of the cost of the labor,” he said. “Wages have improved some, but it’s still cheaper than in the U.S.”

That also may be a reason why the protected agriculture business has thrived in Mexico, compared to the U.S., Garza said.

“It’s very labor-intensive growing in greenhouses, so labor costs are a lot cheaper,” he said.