Grower Alliance on track for good season, normal volume
Now in its 14th year of operations, Rio Rico, AZ-based Grower Alliance is heading into what co-founder Jorge Quintero Jr. said is a good watermelon season with normal volume.
With a full line of desert produce — watermelons, minis, honeydews, squash, green beans, table grapes, tomatoes, several pepper varieties and cukes — Grower Alliance works with multiple growers in North and Central Mexico. Its website notes that the expanding firm supplies “over 100 companies stateside and in Canada,” and today the managing members include Quintero in sales, co-founder Luis Caballero in grower operations and Jorge Quintero Sr. as sales manager.
Quintero Jr. said the year-round watermelon program contracts with about 10 growers that are located in Western Chihuahua; Fronteras, Sonora; Hermosillo, Sonora; Guaymas, Sonora; Obregon, Sonora; and in the southern states of Jalisco and Nayarit. He added, “The spring deal now is all from Hermosillo, Sonora and Guaymas, Sonora.”
The bulk of watermelon production comes from Hermosillo, and he added that the volume is heaviest in fall and spring.
Foodservice, retail and process markets are supplied, and Quinteros said to meet customer needs, “We usually stick to about two or three varieties, and it’s about 90 percent seedless. We will import a little bit of seeded when the market calls for it”
He said said, “We do not handle any organic watermelon at the moment but it is in the plans for the near future.”
Thus far the 2021 crop season is looking good, he said. “Production is going well,” Quinteros said in early May. “We were delayed a couple of weeks, but now everything is arriving in normal volume.”
As the season progresses, the production areas will transition. “Right now we are sourcing from Hermosillo and Guaymas,” he said. “We will have a bit from Obregon also. This lasts us into late June, and we will transition to Fronteras, Sonora, from late June to mid-July. Then we’ll start again in late July/early August from Western Chihuahua. That bridges us over again back into Fronteras, Sonora, in mid-September.”
The production moves in the late fall again, he added. “We transition down to Hermosillo in mid-October. Obregon and Guaymas are next in late October, then the south in mid-December.”
From mid-February to mid-March there is a small gap, he said. “Then we start again in Hermosillo in mid-March.”
Responding to the challenges of COVID-19, Grower Alliance’s growers “have done a great job of implementing necessary guidelines and procedures that have allowed production to stay as normal as possible,” Quintero said. When asked if any changes were made to the program this year, he said, mini watermelon production was increased but “the focus is still on regular seedless watermelons.”
Quintero also said the markets are responding as restaurants begin to reopen. “We are seeing foodservice slowly return into the fold,” he said. “and we hope the normal foodservice volumes return by the fall. Processing also took a small hit, but I believe most of that is back to normal now.”
Looking at the number-one issue affecting commerce in early May, Quintero said transportation remains a problem. “This is the main issue affecting everything right now,’ he said. “It has definitely been a factor this season more than any other. The lack of drivers has sent freight rates soaring and has sort of set a ‘ceiling’ on some commodities at the current time.”
He continued, “For example, zucchini seems like the market should be in the mid-teens to high teens for a normal year, but freights have kept the market down and are only around $11-$12. There isn’t much squash around, and so normally the market would be around $18-$20 even for this volume right now, but freight rates are not allowing the price to go up.”
And he added, “For trucks that are going East, the freight has been more than the product at times!”
Labor, he said, is “adequate.” Quintero noted, “At this time last year there was a bit of a decrease in labor due to the pandemic.”