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Mexico’s vegetable growers faced with weather and labor challenges

Mexico plays a key role in the US vegetable supply this time of year. Baja California is wrapping up, and right now, most product is coming out of Sonora, with Sinaloa being just a few weeks away. What are the expectations for the Mexican season? “Let’s start with discussing a few significant weather events,” says JC Myers with SunFed. The company works with many different grower partners in Mexico, specializing in squash, cucumbers, bell peppers, and eggplant.

Hurricane Norma
Growing region Sinaloa was hit by Hurricane Norma just a few weeks ago. Much of the produce grown in this area is protected by mesh and plastic. “It’s considered low to mid-tech, and the winds did a lot of damage,” commented Myers. “Anyone with coastal acreage has a lot of catch-up to do, and we’re looking at a 10-day harvest delay.” Some early plantings had to be replanted, and some growers scrapped them altogether. “Although we haven’t seen the effect of Hurricane Norma yet, I expect a reduction of overall production,” Myers continued. “It will be interesting to see how things unfold.”

These same growers in Sinaloa have been dealing with water shortages. “With water being scarce and input costs up so much, many growers had to rethink what items to plant this season.” Although a number of good storms hit the region in the past two to three weeks, and growers received lots of precipitation to make up for the drought conditions, the lead-up to it was very challenging.

Labor from southern part of Mexico
Across all of Mexico’s vegetable-growing regions, growers have been faced with the challenge of securing enough labor as well as finding qualified labor. “They put a lot of effort into making their ranches attractive. It is impressive,” said Myers. Ranches offer housing, schools, medical facilities, etc. What is driving the labor shortage? “Mexico’s middle class has been growing, and younger people are finding other things to do than working in ag. Nowadays, growers are forced to bring up labor from regions in the very southern part of Mexico.” These workers come for an entire season and bring their families. As a result, facilities on the ranch are becoming increasingly critical.

Smaller eggplant launched
SunFed is well known for squash. “In zucchini, we are the largest grower, and I feel we also are the best grower in the space,” mentioned Myers. Other key vegetable items for the company include cucumbers, colored bell peppers, and eggplant. “Within the cucumber segment, we’ve been focusing on growing slicer cucumbers. Demand for slicer cucumbers is up, and we’ve added acreage. There should be a pretty significant production increase this season.” Colored bell peppers are another key item. “We are diversifying more into the general hothouse space with colored bell peppers as well as European cucumbers,” Myers said. Last but not least, eggplant is a big item for SunFed. Last year, the company launched a smaller product, marketed as Petite Viola. The first year saw its challenges as the campaign started mid-season. However, expectations are high for this season. “Petite Viola is marketed as a center plate opportunity, providing consumers just the right amount they need.”

In addition to these core items, there are a number of items that are only available for a limited amount of time. “Seasonally, our growers plant a few hundred acres of a certain product, and we’re able to offer it for six weeks and are out again. These are nice windows of opportunity for us.” Cantaloupes, honeydews, watermelon, and beans are examples of in-and-out products for SunFed.

For more information:
JC Myers
SunFed Produce
Tel.: +1 (520) 455-1764
[email protected]