Amid reports some Mexican tomatoes destined for U.S. markets are being returned to shippers because of glutted markets, Nogales, Ariz.-based grower-shippers who have found homes for all of their Mexican-grown fruit are counting themselves lucky.
In Florida, meanwhile, the tomato industry continues to lay the blame for sagging markets on overproduction south of the border.
Media reports in late January quoting officials from the Commission for Research and Protection of Sinaloa Vegetables (CAADES) and other Mexican organizations said that tomatoes were at risk of being rejected and in some cases destroyed because there was no market for them in the U.S.
CAADES’ Mario Robles, the official quoted in an El Sol de Sinaloa newspaper story, did not return requests for comment.
Jaime Chamberlain, chairman of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and president of Nogales-based J-C Distributing, Inc., had not heard reports of Mexican tomatoes getting rejected at the border.
“Shippers are only packing what they’re able to sell,” Chamberlain said. “The quality is outstanding, some of the best we’ve had in a couple of years.”
Chamberlain also said it was strange that Florida growers and officials were blaming the low prices on Mexico.
“They have a lot more than we have,” he said, adding that Florida volumes have been higher than Mexican volumes for weeks.
Florida did ship more field-grown round tomatoes in the week ending Jan. 28, but when Mexican vine-ripe greenhouse-grown tomatoes were added, Mexico shipped more overall, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Mexico also shipped far more roma tomatoes, more cherry tomatoes and about the same number of grape tomatoes as Florida the week ending Jan. 28.
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the FPAA, said he also had not heard reports of rejections. He did say Mexican shippers were choosing very carefully what fruit to send to the border.
“I’ve heard that they’re trying to limit shipments to only the highest quality at this point in order to mitigate the oversupply,” Jungmeyer said.
Chris Ciruli, partner and chief operating officer for Nogales-based Ciruli Bros. LLC, said because of the large volumes, only No. 1-quality tomatoes are making it over the border.
And that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
“It’s the peak of the deal, and at the moment it’s very low price-wise,” Ciruli said Jan. 31. “Supplies are very high, and I don’t see it changing through March.”