California growers increasing role in Mexico production

NOGALES, AZ — California fruit and vegetable growers are expanding their production interests to Mexico.

A strong indicator of this is increased membership interest by Californians in the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer said he has had multiple meetings with Californians interested in joining his association and thereby becoming involved in Mexican production and exports.Lance-GonzaloLance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, with Gonzalo Avila, the association’s chairman. When he is not doing volunteer work for his industry, Avila is vice president and general manager of Malena Produce Inc., which has offices in Tucson and Rio Rico, AZ.

According to the Nogales-based association website, “the FPAA provides a powerful voice for improvement and sustainability, serving the needs of more than 100 North American companies involved in the growth, harvest, marketing, import and distribution of Mexican produce.”

The Mexican state of Baja California has been a source for California shippers, with a heavy strawberry deal in May that runs into June and July. The Baja tomato deal is also important to California interests. Due to being directly south of California, Baja “is a little different” than the rest of Mexico “and has a differ season. Baja is a natural source” for California shippers, Jungmeyer said.

“But, from April into October, November and December, for anyone who wants to be shipping, West Mexico — Sonora, Sinaloa and Jalisco — offers options that you don’t necessarily have in Baja.”

One of those options is shipping Sonora asparagus from January through April.

Because Nogales is the natural port of entry for West Mexico shippers, over time, “California will likely be bringing produce through Nogales,” Jungmeyer said.

He noted that it is difficult to gauge the extent of California investment in Mexico.

Mexican laws have recently changed to permit foreigners to own more land in Mexico, but that does not include farmland, Jungmeyer said. Thus, for foreign entities to invest in Mexico, “they have to make limited partnerships” with Mexican growers.

“My gut feeling is that they already have customers and contracts, so they find other supplies to fill the niche. They are used to selling so many boxes per year.” If produce buyers and their California shippers can’t fill those orders from California, other options will be sought.

Jungmeyer said that this makes Foreign Supplier Verification Programs, which are part of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, all the more important. “California companies probably have not been importers before” and FPAA con supply some of the necessary training.

Jungmeyer said that one of his members, Bobby Astengo, was in Washington, DC, in the first week of October receiving FDA training on the verification program. That information will be shared with FPAA membership.

Astengo is the managing partner of Peppers-Plus LLC, based in Rio Rico, AZ.

Jungmeyer noted that his organization’s reach is extending to Texas, as well as California, membership.

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