The production of tomatoes in Mexico represent 21.5% of the country’s total vegetable production, with the expert of tomatoes having grown by 58% over the past 5 years, primarily to the U.S., which in 2017 consumed over 90% of Mexican tomato exports. In order to keep up with such production demands together with the demand for higher quality tomatoes, growers throughout Mexico are adopting more efficient technologies at a faster pace than ever before. The implementation of these technologies have allowed growers to increase their yields and take advantage of the growing demand of the country’s northern neighbor.
Established in 2012, in the state of Puebla, Mexico, Hortalizas La Gracia grows TOV’s that are marketed under the Pure Flavor brand. In 2016 the operation increased its production of tomatoes on the vine by 10%, to a total of 63 kilos per square meter. According to its general manager, Alejandro Sanchez, this resulted from having the right technology and cultivation strategies available. "By having the right technology, together with technical and commercial partners, our team can focus on being more productive.” says Sanchez.
In 2016, Jessica Villanueva, joined Hortalizas La Gracia’s team as a seasoned TOV grower with production experience in the state of Queretaro, a region with a more temperate climate. "Hortalizas La Gracia was born with a vision to develop a profitable operation that would also aid in generating new jobs in the region. Our philosophy is based on the needs of the crop. Each department is focused on meeting those needs and working as a team to constantly improve." Jessica explains.
Ventilation makes the difference
According to Jessica, the climate of this extremely hot and dry region represents a greater challenge for tomato production at the beginning and end of the crop cycles. During her first production cycle in 2016-2017, Jessica noticed significant changes in the behavior of the plants in two greenhouses and thus began recording the plants development over the next production cycle spanning from 2017-2018. The two greenhouses utilized the same equipment, had the same crop, density, plant nutrition, irrigation and the same crop management practices. The only difference between the two houses however, were the insect screens; in the 2 ha greenhouse a conventional insect net was installed while in the comparable 1.5 ha house Svensson’s Econet 4045 insect screen was used.
When comparing the two greenhouses, Jessica noted that the production in the smaller 1.5 ha house where the Econet was installed was actually much greater compared to the larger 2 ha house with a conventional insect screen. The measured climate parameters included temperature, CO2 and humidity levels. The CO2 levels measured in the comparable houses were 300 vs. 412 ppm, with a noticeably higher CO2 level in the house with Econet. There was a 1°C reduction in temperatures and although the humidity levels were relatively similar, Jessica noticed that the plants presented less stress during the higher temperature peaks. “In the greenhouse with conventional insect screens, I also faced more pollination problems and therefore had to increase my number of hives per hectare by 20%” Jessica notes.
"The CO2 levels measured in the comparable houses were 300 vs. 412 ppm, with a noticeably higher CO2 level in the house with Econet"
"It is worth mentioning that you feel more ventilation in the greenhouse with Econet 4045 screens and because of that, it’s less muggy, which is beneficial for the crop. Due to the climate of the region, I have to open the windows at 100% most of the cycle to maximize the renewal of air inside the greenhouses.” Jessica added.
Hortalizas La Gracia is located in a sugarcane growing region, and when this sugarcane is burned, the whitefly (Bemisia T.) presence intensifies. “In the greenhouse with Econet 4045, the presence of the pest was only temporary; while in the greenhouse with conventional insect screen the pest remained throughout the full crop cycle, causing severe damage to the tomatoes.”
Recently the incidence of virosis has steadily been on the rise and because of these virus outbreaks field producer, such as sugarcane growers have been forced to be more aggressive with their chemical use to combat pests such as whiteflies. This is turn causes these predatory pests to build up greater resistances to agrochemicals permitted for use in greenhouse production, meaning that greenhouse operations have to look to new methods of prevention.
"I like how the plant behaves throughout the cycle with Econet 4045, especially in the hottest months, as the plant presents less stress and maintains the quality of the fruit for a longer period of time."
— Jessica Villanueva, Head Grower, Hortalizas La Gracia