To outsiders, agriculture may seem slow and seasonal—and about as exciting as watching crops grow in real time. It appears to be the opposite of the frantic pace of life in cities, with their rush hours, urgent deadlines, and nonstop diversions.
Yet farmers know that you can lose an entire harvest in just a few hours.
That’s what happened to me in June, after we brought in broccoli from our fields in central Mexico.
Collecting the crops had been hard, with temperatures soaring to nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We were relieved to finish loading the broccoli onto a truck for the trip to our prospective buyer.
While we thought our work was done, the weather wasn’t done with us: The sun was so hot that it turned the truck into an oven on wheels and cooked the vegetables.
Our fresh broccoli became wilted and worthless. We couldn’t sell it. We lost everything.
This minor misfortune still frustrates me, more than two months later. Yet farmers must persevere. We are always adapting to changing circumstances, and that’s what we’re doing right now.
At the same time, I think we need to improve basic market access—and if we do, farming in my region and beyond will become more nimble and resilient.
As a fifth-generation dairy farmer, I’m not a newcomer to agriculture. I’ve produced food all my life. But I’m brand new to vegetable farming—an endeavor that we took up only last year.
Our decision was born of necessity. The pandemic made milk production more difficult than ever before, as input costs climbed sharply and the value of the Mexican peso rose against the U.S. dollar. The normal response would be to raise prices, but strong competition in the milk sector and consumer expectations have made this impossible.
We had to look for other ways to generate revenue.
We’ve always planted forage crops for our milk cows, so it made sense to start using some of this land for high-value vegetables. We started last year with green beans on 10 hectares. Unfortunately, we bought bad seeds. The first seven hectares were a total loss. Then we recovered. We changed seeds for the final three hectares and turned out a harvest that was so good it made up for the previous shortfall.
Green beans are a summer crop, and so in September we shifted to broccoli and cauliflower, which can withstand colder weather and even a light frost. Little by little, we’ve converted more of our farm into vegetable production, with a goal of having 40 hectares until cultivation. We’ve also invested in a system of drip irrigation, to make sure our vegetables get the water they need in the most efficient and sustainable way possible.
We’ve proceeded cautiously, making sure our crops are under contract before we plant them. The hardest part of any business is selling—and with contracts, we know that if we grow a successful crop, we’ll have a buyer after the harvest.
At least that’s the theory. The reality is that too many contracts have loopholes. Buyers want to evaluate the quality of crops, which is fair. Yet they also want to adjust prices based on current supply, which is not fair. To cover up the problem, they can claim falsely that good crops are bad crops.
In other words, farmers may grow perfect vegetables that deserve a high return, according to the rules of sales contracts, but buyers who worry about saturated markets will cite flaws that are in fact fantasies. They’ll try to purchase at lower prices, or even to reject crops that otherwise belong in grocery stores, restaurants, and kitchen pantries.
The solution is to break free from this faulty system, finding new buyers with better contracts—and that includes international trade with foreign partners. I hope that we can start selling some of what we grow across borders. The United States and Canada are excellent potential markets for us, due to proximity, trade agreements, and the ease of doing business.
Americans and Canadians who seek fresh and delicious vegetables should contact us. We are open to any possibility, as we expand into more varieties, based on what consumers want.
We also plan to keep farming broccoli, which we intend to let you cook.