More organic tomatoes are being grown in Amado greenhouses by Wholesum Family Farms. The company has added 25 new year-round jobs as it expands the existing 18-acre facility with six more acres.
Amado – historically a rural, ranching area – is now changing to greenhouse farming.
“Amado suits us very well for the type of agriculture we do – indoors in greenhouses. During the winter it has great sunlight and during the summer, we have the higher elevation and it cools off substantially at night. That gives us the ability to grow year-round, and that’s very attractive to us,” said Ricardo Crisantes, chief commercial officer.
He noted that agriculture in a protected environment is specialized “and it’s not for everybody.” That could be why other Nogales companies aren’t growing produce there. However, the area is home to two medical marijuana greenhouse complexes.
Wholesum has a 20,000-square-foot warehouse and shipping facility in Nogales, south of Gold Hill Road and east of Grand Avenue, while the sales office staff and other support staff are in Amado, across the road from the huge greenhouse.
Crisantes said the company employs 168 workers year-round in the Santa Cruz County operation and 680 workers at its Mexican farms in Imuris, Sonora and Culiacan, Sinaloa.
Wholesum grows and sells organic tomatoes on the vine and beefsteak tomatoes, he said. Rather than having a high season, based on harvest dates, as most Nogales produce distributors do, Wholesum plants and harvests on a rotating schedule, Crisantes said.
“One of the advantages of our greenhouse production and infrastructure is the ability to create optimal organic growing conditions year-round. We also plant our crops on rotation at each greenhouse so that all growing activities are taking place simultaneously and throughout the year.”
“This gives us the ability to have a steady and efficient workforce with opportunities for growth,” he said.
The family-owned company has more than 90 years of farming experience. Prior to the name Wholesum, the company was called Cris-P Produce, known to many people in the local produce industry.
The first phase of construction of Wholesum Farms Arizona began in 2011 as a 12-acre facility. The large greenhouse is just southwest of the Arivaca Road interchange of Interstate 19, which places it near the north end of Santa Cruz County.
The first part of Phase II began in 2014, expanding the size to 18 acres, and the second part added the newest six acres. The company is planning two more construction phases.
With the first harvest anticipated in November, the new greenhouse will bring a projected 3.5 million additional pounds of U.S. organic tomatoes on the vine and beefsteak tomatoes to market per year, Crisantes said.
Although there are more than 130 companies in Nogales which sell fruits and vegetables from Mexico to buyers across the United States and Canada, Wholesum is the only one of those that has a farming operation in Santa Cruz County.
A new import tax has hit Wholesum Farms as well as all others who import tomatoes grown in Mexico. Crisantes said they aren’t planning to pull back.
In May, the U.S. Department of Commerce withdrew from a tomato “suspension agreement” which suspended an investigation regarding growing costs of Mexican tomatoes. Now, an import tax of 17.5 percent on all tomatoes imported from Mexico must be paid.
Local produce importers initially said that Mexican tomato imports would drop precipitously with the tax, but import volumes in May and June of this year were actually higher than the previous year.
“Despite the tariffs, we have continued and will continue growing tomatoes in Mexico, shipping them to the U.S. and paying the 17.5 percent duty,” Crisantes said. He said consumers appreciate “high flavor specialty snacking tomatoes which grow very well in Mexico.”
Even so, he said, “following the (greenhouse expansion), 100 percent of our beefsteak (tomatoes) will be U.S. grown as will be most of our tomatoes on the vine. Both varieties grow very well in the U.S.”
“Also, uncertainty remains surrounding the future of the tomato suspension agreement and we don’t want to take any drastic measures until there’s a clearer picture of the future,” Crisantes said.