The Agent's Corner Mar 1993

Mexican Food Production

Mexico is a country that is changing and growing - a country that is three times the size of Texas and with a population of 90 million people. Over one quarter of them live in Mexico City. The capital city has a population of 20 to 25 million inhabitants depending on who is estimating, and is among the largest cities in the world. To feed that many people is an awesome task, equivalent to feeding Canada

It was my privilege to lead 63 strawberry growers of the North American Strawberry Growers Association to Iraputo, Mexico, the traditional strawberry growing area, which is 4 hours northwest of Mexico City. Over 5,500 acres of berries are grown there. Many of the strawberries are frozen and exported to Australia, Canada and the United States. Vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and carrots are grown, packed, frozen and shipped to the United States. There are 30 processing plants in the area including Birdseye and Green Giant, which moved from California several years ago, and other U.S. firms. We visited one Mexican factory that was packing and freezing broccoli. They pack under 40 different labels which are all shipped to the United States. Their annual output of broccoli is over 8,600 tons. They also pack and ship other vegetables to the U.S. All of their products are marketed in the U.S. by Pepsico, which owns Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The Mexican producers must meet FDA and EPA regulations for processed and fresh produce just like crops grown in the States. Samples are tested at the border for pesticide residues. Any not meeting the U.S. standards are rejected and the producers/growers may be fined.

Reports that use of illegal pesticides in Mexico are greatly exaggerated and nearly all are not true. If sampling finds pesticide residues the products are stopped at the border and products already delivered in the States are seized. An investigation on both sides of the border starts and usually takes several weeks to complete. The producers lose money, market share and time. I know of several Mexican producers who have installed expensive, state of the art testing labs to monitor their products and insure that pesticide contamination does not occur. Millions of dollars are at stake if their produce is delayed at the border or is returned or dumped. Sampling and testing of produce on both sides of the border insures that our food supply is the safest and least expensive in the world.

QUESTION: What do I need to do when planting or transplanting a tree, shrub or bush this spring?

ANSWER: Dr. Jimmy Tipton, U of A, Arid Ornamentals Specialist states, "Research results have caused many to modify their planting and transplanting practices. Perhaps the best-known modification is the elimination of organic amendments in the back fill to avoid interfaces which discourage root growth out of the amended area and increase nitrogen shortages." The American Forestry Association now recommends a less dramatic planting hole that is as deep as the container and five times as wide to encourage lateral root spread in uncompacted soil. The International Society of Arboriculture recommends a hole as deep as the container and twice as wide with an unamended back fill. Dr. Tipton recommends 9 steps for transplanting most container trees and shrubs, native or exotic. They are:

1) Prepare a planting area 3 to 5 times the diameter of the container. Till this area to the depth of the root ball to aerate compacted soil. Dig through caliche layer.

2) Dig a planting hole in the center of the - area no deeper than the container. Make sure the root ball will rest on undisturbed, firm soil and that the top will be at or slightly above the soil surface. This is important to prevent the plant from sinking. Remove the plant from the container. This is usually very easy if you hold the plant by its trunk, turn it upside down and gently knock the edge of the container on a hard surface (wall or fence). If the plant is too big, cut the container rather than lifting the plant by its trunk

4) Either disentangle and spread encircling roots or cut and remove them. Score the sides of the root ball to encourage lateral root growth.

5) Place the plant in the hole and back fill with unamended soil. Do not tamp back fill with your feet.

6) Remove any nursery stakes. Stake trees only if necessary. Prune only damaged branches DO NOT remove one third of the foliage. Root initiation and growth is stimulated by stem buds and leaves. Therefore shoot pruning reduces root growth and prolongs establishment.

7) Form a well just outside the original root ball. Fill this well with water to irrigate the plant and settle the soil without compaction. Even if you intend to irrigate the plant with a drip system, continue to hand water for several weeks or months (depending upon the type of plant and season of year).

8) If you wish to fertilize the plant (which may or may not be beneficial), apply a nitrogen fertilizer over the entire area prepared in Step 1. Use no more than 15% actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet.

9) Apply 3-4 inches of an organic mulch over the entire area prepared in Step 1. Keep mulch away from the base of the plant. Even desert shrubs will benefit from an organic mulch.

Rob Call
March, 1993