Mexico turns into a berry powerhouse

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Mexico, already the world’s third-largest exporter of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, is in search of methods to get U.S. customers to throw extra recent blueberries into the pancake batter and heap extra raspberries onto their fruit salads.

So long as U.S. and different overseas customers wolf down berries, Mexican proponents of the business say, the surge will proceed. That is extra than simply an agricultural oddity in a land better-known for fields of blue-green agave and patches of cactus. The expansion of the berry business has had main penalties on areas lengthy bothered by excessive unemployment and drug-related violence.
The business, which did not exist lower than 20 years in the past, employs greater than 100,000 folks and reaps practically $1 billion a 12 months. And it is nonetheless rising from its adolescence.
“We’re beginning some big progress,” mentioned Javier Trujillo Arriaga, Mexico’s senior federal plant well being director. “It has been spectacular, completely spectacular.”
“It is seemingly the business will make use of 200,000 folks in 5 years,” mentioned Mario Steta Gandara, former head of the Nationwide Affiliation of Berry Exporters, a commerce affiliation that started solely 5 years in the past.
Berry cultivation is not the province solely of big industrial farms. Just like espresso farms, berry operations differ in measurement.

“You possibly can have the 500-acre or 600-acre man, however you even have folks making an honest dwelling on 5 acres,” mentioned Steta, basic supervisor of Mexico operations for Driscoll’s Berries, a fruit big primarily based in Watsonville, Calif.

The story of Mexico’s berry business begins in distant lands — California and Chile — the place fruit farmers encountered plenty of difficulties starting from water shortages to excessive transport prices and insufficient entry to migrant employees. So growers seemed elsewhere.

“I labored in raspberries for 10 years in Chile,” mentioned Sergio Vargas, a Chilean who’s a companion in Berries Paradise, an exporter with a brand that describes the priority’s merchandise as “a chunk of heaven.”

He and his Mexican companion have 1,500 acres of blueberries and raspberries beneath cultivation in neat rows beneath open-sided plastic covers. The fields are within the southern highlands of Jalisco state alongside the Pacific coast.

“We began at zero in 2008,” Vargas mentioned. “It is value so much to learn to develop blueberries right here. … We have had a pointy studying curve.”

They’ve settled on a wide range of blueberry generally known as Biloxi, a reputation taken from town in Mississippi, which is customized to the upper temperatures and milder winters of Mexico.

In contrast to in the USA, the blueberry bushes do not drop their leaves right here, and the rising season is November to Might, or longer. Harvests are smaller per acre however “it is nonetheless a great enterprise,” Vargas mentioned.

Many of the berry farms are 4,000 to five,200 toes above sea degree, an elevation that blunts the fierce warmth that beats down alongside the coast. Whereas strawberries are grown broadly in Mexico, different berries are largely restricted to Jalisco, Michoacan and Colima states, all of which border the Pacific, since that is the place the mandatory refrigerated provide chain is centered.

The areas historically had been dwelling to a lot totally different sorts of vegetation. When overseas growers got here to the areas of Jalisco the place berries now flourish, they discovered sugar cane. In neighboring Michoacan, berries took over from avocado plantations.

Trujillo, the federal government crop official, mentioned main sugar-cane growers would rent solely 50 folks to have a tendency 25,000 acres. That very same acreage for berries, he mentioned, employs 2,000 folks to have a tendency the bushes and harvest the fruit by hand.

Mexico’s largest berry producer is Driscoll’s, the Watsonville firm. Its chief government, Miles Reiter, a third-generation berry man, got here to Mexico round 1995.

“A employee … in California invited Miles to a marriage in Jalisco in the midst of winter,” Steta mentioned. “He got here, he noticed the atmosphere … and he questioned if it was not the suitable atmosphere for berries.”

Reiter shortly decided that bushes and vines would sprout from the soil, however he saved his plan low-key for plenty of years, quietly doing trials in Mexico within the late 1990s. Then situations in California pushed him to motion. An anti-immigrant temper made it more durable to get discipline labor there to reap his berries.

“California’s challenges are actually offering a chance for Mexico. Labor and immigration are actually huge points. You would not have the labor to reap these crops in California,” Steta mentioned.

The berry business’s progress has been so fast that issues have arisen. At some occasions of the 12 months, the nation lacks refrigerated vans to maneuver berries, which have a shelf lifetime of about 45 days. Higher legal guidelines are wanted to guard proprietary varieties. And capital prices are excessive. Slightly than coming from seeds, the vines and bushes have to be propagated from roots and stems, introduced from the U.S. and different nations.

Two dozen corporations belong to the berry exporters’ affiliation, and people who have mastered the provision chain be aware proudly how shortly their berries get plucked from the vine or bush, despatched to cooling chambers, then on to refrigerated vans.

When Mexico-grown berries present up on U.S. grocery store cabinets, few customers discover the provenance.

“The identical manufacturers that U.S. customers are used to seeing on grocery store cabinets — like Driscoll’s, like Naturipe, like Dole — are sourcing (their berries) in Mexico now,” mentioned Mario Andrade Cardenas, a grower from Michoacan state who’s the top of the berry exporters’ affiliation.

“At the moment, Mexico is the principal supply of berries for the USA exterior of U.S. manufacturing,” he mentioned.

However growers right here search to diversify. Whereas 80 to 90 p.c of exports head north, growers additionally air-ship to Europe, North Africa, the Center East and East Asia.

“The consumption of berries simply retains rising. Persons are consuming them for all their anti-oxidant properties, their excessive fiber and their useful results,” mentioned Casimiro Davila, buying chief for Hortifrut, a Chilean firm with main investments in Mexico.

Davila mentioned Mexico had reduce sharply into Chile’s world berry market share.

Mexico now produces 30 p.c of the world’s blackberries.

Berry growers right here have met defeat in just one space: persuading Mexicans to eat extra berries. Mexicans eat lower than a tenth of what is eaten in the USA, the place per capita consumption of recent berries tops 5 kilos a 12 months.

100,000

Variety of folks the fruit-growing business employs in Mexico
30%
The quantity of the world’s berries which are produced in Mexico
5 kilos
The quantity of berries per capita that folks in the USA eat per 12 months.

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