GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Everybody tends to think of themselves as unique, and of course in certain ways we all are.
Fruit and vegetable growers are no exception.
But like all of us, they aren’t necessarily as singular as they suppose.
During his presentation for the marketing opportunities workshop at the recent AMHPAC convention of Mexico’s protected horticulture producers, John Giles, agri-food divisional director for the United Kingdom-based market research firm Promar International, offered a list of things he says all growers believe about themselves:
- All farmers are individuals, but we are the best.
- Our competition is subsidized or disorganized.
- We don’t get paid enough.
- Problems facing our industry/commodity aren’t our fault. Blame retailers, the government, etc.
- We grow in a unique microclimate.
- Last year was bad — so we’ll produce more this year.
- People will always want our product.
I’ll have to admit that after years of reporting on the fresh produce trade and talking to producers from many parts of the U.S. and elsewhere that Giles’ list sounded familiar to comments I’ve heard many growers make.
It’s nice to know that maybe if you aren’t so unique at least you aren’t alone.
The U.S. is by far Mexican vegetables’ main destination, and that might not be in Mexican growers’ best interest, Giles said.
“The world’s a big place. It doesn’t all have to go the U.S.”
He said that five years ago Mexican producers considered other markets but stayed focused on the U.S. based on growth in existing business and proximity to the market.
The current uncertainty regarding the tomato suspension agreement between the U.S. and Mexico demonstrates the need for Mexican producers not to be overly reliant on a single market, he said.
Giles named Europe and Asia’s rapidly expanding market as alternate outlets for Mexico.
“Do it,” he urged. “Start now.”
Tomatoes in turmoil
It was no surprise that resolving the tomato suspension agreement issue was the recurring topic at AMHPAC’s convention.
Although the agreement has been in place since the mid-1990s, changes in the tomato market have resulted in a changed game.
“Growth in the industry has challenged our field growers, particularly on the other side of the border,” said Fried de Shouwer, owner of Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., which grows vegetables in greenhouses around Mexico.
Speaking as a panelist during the market opportunities workshop, de Shouwer gave some background on the evolution of the U.S. tomato market:
- Around 40% of fresh tomatoes sold at retail in the U.S. are now greenhouse, compared with negligible amounts in the early 1990s.
- Mexico’s protected horticulture over the past six years grew by 248%, compared to Canadian production expansion of 28% and U.S. expansion of 17%.
- Greenhouse tomatoes now account for around 20% of U.S. fresh tomato supply.
In particular, de Shouwer mentioned a development on the horizon that might be the 1-ton tomato in the living room.
Before Fidel Castro took over, Cuba was a key tomato supplier to the U.S., with the industry only taking root in Florida when trade stopped between the U.S. and Cuba.
Castro is 86. His baby brother Raul — 81 years of age — has been in charge since 2006. Neither has a lot of shelf life left.
When the Castro era sunsets, business between the U.S. and Cuba may well resume, and another player may re-enter the already competitive U.S. tomato market.
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