National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

The annual report on Mexican tomatoes has been issued by the USDA FAS. I was interested if the report would have much to say about the growth of "protected" tomato production in Mexico. I wasn't disappointed.

Here are some excerpts from the report about the trends and dynamics of open field and protected tomato production:

Total planted area for tomatoes has been declining but yields have been increasing due to the establishment of protected agriculture (greenhouse, shade-house, tunnel) areas.

In 1990, planted area devoted to tomatoes was about 85,500 hectares (ha). In 2000, tomato planted area was roughly 75,800 ha. In 2011, tomato planted area is expected at approximately 57,000 ha.

Tomato-producing states like Sinaloa and Baja California switched more area from open field production to greenhouse production and used less area while increasing yields. Other states began to build greenhouse/shade-house infrastructure to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, zucchini, strawberries, and flowers.

Open-field tomato production area has shown a tendency to decrease due to pest problems, high costs of production, swings in both international prices and exchange rates, and limited water availability. The decrease in open field area is more evident in states like Sinaloa, Baja California, and Jalisco.

In addition, small open field producers are switching to other products like corn and beans in search of better financial returns. There has also been a gradual switch from open field tomato production to protected production.

Greenhouse/shade-house operations are concentrated in the states of Sinaloa, Baja California and Jalisco, but there are also greenhouse operations in the states of Colima, Mexico, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Sonora, and Zacatecas.

According to industry sources, there are currently more than 13,000 ha of protected agriculture throughout Mexico devoted to tomato production.

According to sources, protected agriculture is growing in Mexico at about 13 percent a year as producers increasingly become aware of the benefits in production, quality, pest control, and reduced risk exposure to climate change.

Moreover, there is growth in protected agriculture as the GOM, at various levels, sees the benefits of introducing this production method to rural and poorer areas as a form of social development.

According to the Secretariat of Agriculture (SAGARPA) there are about 20,000 hectares under protected agriculture, with 12,000 ha of greenhouse type and 8,000 ha of shade-house and macro-tunnel type.

The state of Sinaloa accounts for 22%, Baja California 14%, Baja California Sur 12%, and Jalisco 10% of protected agriculture. The main horticultural products produced under this technology are tomato (70%), bell pepper (16%), cucumber (10%), and the rest are products like flowers, chili peppers, strawberries and papaya.

In Sinaloa (a winter-cycle tomato producing state) there are about 15,000 ha devoted to tomatoes of which approximately 2,000 ha are under protected production.

About 80% of these hectares are under shade-house operations as the climate is generally too hot for greenhouse technology. Due to strong returns, production has trended towards increased use of shade-houses, mainly for products destined for the export market.

Growers, however, indicate that combining open field and shade-house production has been useful for marketing their product. Sources point out that less than ideal levels of agricultural sophistication (i.e., lack of established marketing channels, insufficient capital, and ability to manage weather events), means that sometimes growers abandon protected facilities.

Through a recent study in 2010/11, the Mexican Association of Protected Horticulture (AMHPAC) found that of the approximately 9,000 ha of greenhouses existing in the northern states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Baja California Norte, and Baja California Sur, 30 percent were not operating. During the October to May winter season, Sinaloa growers are the main producers and exporters of fresh tomatoes.