One narrative that came out of the devastating early February freezes in Mexico was the field-grown versus protected ag story.

Mexican field-grown escapes some losses

Andy Nelson
Markets Editor

The story followed a neat and tidy arc. If all of your vegetables in Culiacan were open-field, God help you. If they were grown under shadehouses, there was some hope.

One grower told me he lost 85% to 99% of his open-field tomatoes, bell peppers, yellow squash, beans and eggplant. Shade house losses, he said, were closer to 60% to 80%.

Grown under plastic? Even more reason for hope.

If you were lucky enough to have all of your production in high-tech greenhouses, you most likely got by unscathed.

Seems like a pretty simple story, right? Not so fast, says Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

Because the bulk of Mexican tomatoes are grown in tropical areas, Jungmeyer told me, glass greenhouses are less common in Mexico’s major growing regions.

“Glass greenhouses are more commonly used in central Mexico, which was not as affected by the low temperatures of early February.”

Field by field

It’s misleading to paint too broad a stroke based solely on whether a field was open to the heavens or shielded by glass, mesh, plastic, tunnels, tents, giant umbrellas, a retractable dome — you name it.

There was too much field-to-field variation, Jungmeyer said, to make a blanket statement along the lines of, “Field damage was X, shadehouse Y, greenhouse Z.”

“Microclimates had more to do with the level of damage,” he said.

“Buyers who are wondering who they can count on should not turn solely to product from glass greenhouses because there remains plenty available from all kinds of protected horticulture methods.”

Recovery

While bell peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables will be tight, Jungmeyer said not to count out field production as the season progresses.

“It looks to be a slim March, but the fact that plantings overall were up should mean that enough production will come in for retailers to keep product on the shelves,” he said.

Time will tell. The truth no doubt lies somewhere between what the open-field guys are saying and what the greenhouse guys are saying.

Both can agree on one thing, however: They’ll be happy when they’re done talking about the Great Freeze of ’11.

E-mail anelson@thepacker.com

What sort of damage did your crops suffer from the February freezes? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.