Bins of Golden Delicious are dumped at La Norteñita packing plant.

Bins of Golden Delicious are dumped at La Norteñita packing plant.

A sign in Cuauhtémoc, Mexico, welcomes visitors to “the most important apple region in the world.” Without argument, the district is the most important apple region in Mexico, boasting more than 25,000 acres of apple orchard, 101 fruit packing warehouses, and one of the largest growing-packing operations anywhere.

The growing-packing company La Norteñita is owned by Salvador Corral and his family, who grow and pack 2 million boxes of apples each year. At peak harvest, the company employs up to 5,000 people. The company also has cattle and real estate businesses and buys and sells grains such as corn, barley, and hay.

Horacio Gonzalez, a former student at Wenatchee Valley College in Washington State, is in charge of pest management, irrigation, and nutrition in the company’s orchards.

Corral planted his first orchard in 1968, now has about 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres), and continues to plant orchard at the rate of 250,000 trees annually.

About 40 percent of the company’s orchards are not yet in production. Average production from mature orchards is 50 bins per acre. About 30 percent of the company’s production is in Red Delicious and the other 70 percent Golden Delicious. Its Gala plantings are not yet in production.

Corral’s three sons are involved in the business. Salvador, Jr., is in charge of field operations; Luis heads administration; and Oscar runs the marketing department. About 80 percent of La Norteñita’s apples are shipped to Mexico City, and the rest are sold throughout Mexico. None are exported.

Year round

The apple packing line was manufactured by MAF Industries in California and can pack up to 600 bins per day. The packing facility has 68 storage rooms, of which 64 are controlled atmosphere, with a total capacity of 130,000 bins. Harvest runs from early August until October, and the apples are packed year round. The fungicides captan and ziram are applied in the orchard with calcium, and the fruit is drenched with Mertect (thiabendazole) on arrival at the packing plant. Because of the dry climate, there are no problems with scab.

According to industry leader Carlos Chavez, La Norteñita received a trophy from the government for its high quality and food safety standards. The state-of-the-art plant reputedly cost U.S.$156 million to build and equip. It features electronic color sorting and an aerial transport system to deliver empty cartons to the packing stations.