Julián Sánchez

Avocado, the Green Gold of Colombia

We often hear that the future of Colombia is in its fields. As Bayer employees, we work to help farmers’ achieve the highest yield and profitability and are pleased to monitor every success story. One of our latest success story involves Hernán Villegas, an avocado producer from the municipality of Dosquebradas, in the department of Risaralda.

Three years ago, Villegas was a typical farmer from his region, dedicated to a dozen dairy cows and an occasional onion plantation spread out on a 6-hectare farm. He usually had minimal profit with this business model, just enough to pay off his debts and get the basics to support his family. That was until he had a conversation in a coffee shop in the city during which friend advised him to plant avocados, a crop that was undergoing a meteoric rise in the country.

Colombia started commercial avocado production in 2004, with a vision to increase external demand for the product - especially of the Hass variety. Just over a decade later, the country has 14,600 hectares planted with avocados destined for export, with total sales of 18,200 tonnes in 2016 (equivalent to USD 35 million).

In 2011, Villegas enthused with the suggestion, decided to invest in the crop. However, he noticed that while his trees grew, they did not produce as expected. In 2015, Villegas participated in a Bayer event and realized there was something wrong with the way he was producing – and he sought help from us. I personally visited Villegas’ farm and helped him developed a new management plan based on the assessment done. The operation required improvement in plant population management (the farm had to have the right number of trees per hectare, not too many nor too little), it was also important to adjust nutrition, pruning and phytosanitary management to achieve optimal yield.

Julián Sánchez
Julián Sánchez
Julián Sánchez
Sales Force South West Region, Crop Science Colombia

The new plan was implemented and soon Villegas started to see the pay off. He currently owns 2,000 avocado trees with a yield of 15 tonnes per hectare, seven tonnes more than he used to get before implementing the new management approach. About 80 percent of his harvest goes to Europe, the main market for Colombian avocados. The good performance of his farm allowed him to get rid of bank debts, handle credit with agricultural retailers better, and to renovate his home and other farm facilities. His kids are taking technical courses in agriculture, and already show interest in following in their father’s footsteps. Villegas is also planning to buy a nearby property to plant more avocados, encouraged by the recent opening of the American market.

The United States liberalized Colombian avocado purchases in May 2017, energizing the business even further. While Mexico remains the leading global producer and largest US supplier, Colombians expect to gain a significant share of this market - after all, the US has a per capita consumption of 3.2 kilos of avocado per year and imports no less than 900 tonnes of them annually. Avocado is currently the sixth most exported agricultural product in Colombia, trailing only behind coffee, bananas, flowers, palm oil, and sugar. However, many producers believe it will reach fourth place soon, displacing some of the other traditional cultivars.

In order to solidify Colombia’s avocado production it will be important to boost domestic consumption (currently at around 1.8 kilo/year but with an estimated potential of 3.2). Among the other challenges hindering growth are: logistics infrastructure, transportation and qualified workforce. At Bayer, we want to support this growth and the promise of a better life to the country farmers’; we are happy to work with farmers like Villegas and celebrate their successes.

Current Readers´ rating (4)
Comment
Thriving for Change - Championing Agriculture for a New Generation