Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Central American Produce Poised for Growth

Excerpts from article in Produce Business, November 2007 by Duane Craig

Central America is an important region for keeping the produce bins full throughout the year. Its fruits and vegetables help fill consumer desires for variety and healthful foods.

Outside the U.S. growing seasons "getting produce from Central America, is as close to the US market as you're going to get. Less travel means better shelf life and fewer worries about quality. I'm not surprised that Central America has become central to the retail produce section," says Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals, LLC, Homestead, Florida.

Hurricanes Impact

Late summer hurricanes that struck the area appear to have left a mixed bag of crop damage in their wakes.

"We had considerable crop damage, but we are much more optimistic than we were at first," explains Ostlund. "We're seeing younger fields and fields that were further south of the storm having survived. The day after the hurricane we had a 90-member cleanup crew out in the fields resetting trees. We started planting literally two days after the storm." She credits the company's experience with hurricanes at its base in Florida key to minimizing crop damage.

"We were able to bring all our seedlings from our nursery into the packinghouse," Ostlund continues, "so we literally have a full complement of seedlings to go right back into the field. We're replanting with seedlings that we feel have the best in taste and better shelf life."

Brooks has more than five years of research and development into the new plants.

On the Horizon

"Next year we'll be ramping up volume in our Caribbean Sunrise and Caribbean Red papayas. But for the entire year, we think we'll have larger volumes than last year," said Ostlund.