Growers and shippers of west Mexico vegetables say they’re pleased irrigation may cost less this year, but they also say they prefer to take a longer view, where cost structures are concerned.

The El Vigia newspaper in Ensenada, Mexico, reported recently that an increase in rainfall last year in Mexico was likely to trim growers’ irrigation costs.

The paper, citing figures from CONAGUA, Mexico’s national water agency, reported the water level had reached 42.9 cubic meters in November, which was a 6.5% increase from the same period in 2009.

In Mexico, dams and wells provide water for more than 28,400 acres.

Mario Robles, director of the Commission for Research and the Protection of Sinaloa Vegetables, questioned whether the extra rainfall would make much difference on the growers’ bottom lines.

He said changes in irrigation systems in general likely were more important to growers.

“The Sinaloa vegetable industry is in the process of adopting a technological change from drip irrigation open field crops to protected agriculture,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to have a more rational use of resources. Sinaloa has 11 dams with a capacity to store a total of 15.4 million cubic meters of mountain water. Only 6% of irrigated land is used in vegetables.”

He said the extra rain that fell last year would leave minimal cost benefits, at least in his region.

“Water availability does not affect irrigation water cost in Sinaloa,” he said. “Nowadays our dams are at 70% of capacity. The cost of water runs per acre and per type of crop on a fixed basis.”

Growers and shippers said there are many other factors involved, as well.

“Typically, a lot of costs in irrigation is how you’re getting it around the ranch,” said Chris Ciruli, a partner in Nogales, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros. “Your costs of setting up irrigation haven’t been reduced, even if costs of the water go down. It really depends on what kind of irrigation you’re using and how often you intend to use it.”

Shippers keep in mind that ups and downs vary from year to year, said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing with San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce.

“It’s definitely more temporary than it is long-term,” he said. “Long term, I think, across the board we’re seeing costs slowly and steadily creep up. But it’s certainly welcome this year.”

An abundance of rain perhaps serves a couple even more important purposes, Munger said.

“No. 1, the water quality improves significantly. And when you get a lot of rain — although it’s an interruption and makes things messy, especially when you’re trying to plant or prune or harvest — you also see it pushes all the salt and minerals that kind of crept up to the surface way down, as well, and plants absolutely love it.

“We end up with lower water costs, better water quality and happier plants, and happier soil for them to grow in. As much as we don’t like the interruption, we certainly welcome it.”

Costs are capricious, and growers welcome the downward trends, said Jon Esformes, operating partner in the Nogales office of Palmetto, Fla.-based Pacific Tomato Growers.

“All of the input costs are in such fluctuation now,” he said. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a reduction in our costs related to petroleum going down.

“Now we’re seeing fuel costs going back up. The input costs are something we’re constantly monitoring. Wherever we farm, there will be certain inflationary pressures on a number of inputs.”