NOGALES, Ariz. — West Mexico’s produce deal got a shot in the arm last season when spring weather woes in Florida drove more buyers than usual to the Nogales area.


As a result of tight supplies and less competition from the Sunshine State, shippers of many west Mexico commodities had a chance to shine.


“We had a tremendous opportunity to have tomatoes from Mexico in the hands of many customers who had not used them in past,” said Jim Cathey, general manager at Del Campo Supreme Inc.


“We really had an opportunity to showcase what Mexico is all about,” he said.


About 5.1 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables crossed through the Nogales port of entry from September 2009 through August 2010, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. That was an increase from 4.2 billion pounds the previous year.


The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas estimates the f.o.b. value at $2 billion.


Nogales-area shippers are hopeful that memories of last season’s quality and availability will remain in buyers’ minds throughout the coming year.


West Mexico — especially Sinaloa and Jalisco — had its own weather setbacks early this season, when rain delayed planting in some areas. Shippers said the delays were short-lived, however, and most expected the crops to be caught up by the time peak season begins by mid-January.


“You probably won’t see any effect on volume or quality at all,” said Jaime Chamberlain, president of J-C Distributing Inc.


In fact, some crops may be more spaced out, he said, “which is great.”


Last year, Sinaloa had consistent weather all season, so growers all planted during the same time period, he said, “so a lot of the volume came in at the same time for certain commodities.”


Because of the planting gaps, that should not be the case this year.


But the picture is not entirely rosy for west Mexico growers and shippers.


The economy has made lending institutions more leery of lending money, so financing in Mexico has gotten tighter, said Brent Harrison, president of Al Harrison Co. Distributors.


That could result in less product this season and higher prices.


“We went through the tough times just like the rest of the country did,” said Steve Yubeta, vice president of sales for Farmer’s Best International LLC, Rio Rico.


Nonetheless, he said business on the whole has been good.


“I never really saw the super tough times,” he said.


Indeed, many companies seem to be basking in the glow of last year’s uptick.


Al Harrison Co. has taken on a new partner, TJ Bauer, formerly with L&M Cos. Inc., and hopes to double its sales this year, Harrison said.


To accommodate additional product, the company is adding cooling units and modifying buildings.


Farmer’s Best also is adding warehouse facilities and more parking area, Yubeta said.


J-C Distributing covered a loading dock over the summer and improved the traffic flow for visitors, Chamberlain said.


All three companies, along with several others, will have expanded sales staffs this year.


While shippers are optimistic for a good season, no one is taking a fruitful year for granted.


“It’s been so unpredictable over the past couple of years that it’s going to be very interesting to see how it goes,” said JJ Badillo, director of diversified products for the Rio Rico office of Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc. “You can plan and expect, but the weather continues to play quite a major role.”


“In our business, we don’t need a bad economy to have a bad season,” echoed Miguel Suarez, owner of MAS Melons & Grapes in Rio Rico.


“It’s all supply and demand,” he said. “Supply and demand is 90% — the economy is 10%.”