Founded in 1971, Mexican vegetable grower Agrícola Zarattini is a family business that produces peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus and strawberries. Having started out with just 6 ha, nowadays the facility comprises 91 ha of greenhouse crops, with the overwhelming majority of its products being sold for export. With more than 10 years of experience in producing hydroponic vegetables, today this grower sets itself apart with its consistently high-quality produce, including ‘One Sweet’ peppers and the specialty tomatoes Campari and Kumato.
Emmanuel (Manolo) Melchor, head grower at the company, explains the evolution of the company. “We started our greenhouse activities around 15 years ago, and the Zarattini family has been continuously driving expansion ever since. The ambition is to become the best company of our kind in Mexico and the first to be recognised worldwide for quality. We first started out with just 6 ha. Today, we have 91 ha of high-tech greenhouses, employing around 800 people and we are still growing.”
At the Medio Sitio facility, located close to Silao de la Victoria in the state of Guanajuato, on the central plains of Mexico, the company produces bell peppers in three colours – red, orange and yellow – all year round. Silao is a centre of agricultural and industrial activity, with a large number of production facilities growing a wide variety of crops. The area has a semi-arid climate, with rains in the summer and an average annual temperature of 28°C (with maximum temperatures reaching as high as 34°C in mid-summer and down to 0°C in the winter months).
Mexico’s horticulture sector has been growing steadily over the past couple of decades. The production of greenhouse crops continues to rise at an average rate of over a thousand hectares per year, thanks among other things to the favourable climate and the country’s proximity to the US and Canadian markets. “Like almost all other vegetable producers in Mexico, we export close to 95% of our products to the USA and Canada, with the remaining 5% being sold on the local market,” comments Melchor. The company’s customers include the top 25 food retailers in those countries, such as Walmart and Costco.
Meeting consumer needs
“We are committed to high standards of quality, food safety and sustainability,” he continues. This includes the company providing excellent after-sales services, shouldering its corporate social responsibility, treating its employees, its customers and the environment with respect, and making people feel that they are part of the family.
“Above all, we are focused on meeting the needs of the consumers, the men and women who are looking for the best-quality peppers,” Melchor says. “Our whole organisation is set up to achieve that: we select the pepper seeds ourselves, have our own nursery where we produce seedlings, and then we cultivate, package and market our fresh produce. To reach our goal, we need to have outstanding and productive pepper plants, and also excellent employees.”
The company’s germination facilities include mechanical seeders, trays and other equipment and materials, and the subsequent development of the seedlings is done in a high-tech environment in which the light level, temperature, humidity and nutrients are all carefully monitored and controlled.
“Our greenhouses are also very high-tech, built by our own team under the guidance and supervision of the greenhouse companies. We have close relationships with the likes of Zantingh, Richel, Priva and Hoogendoorn for the automated systems and equipment,” he adds.
The company is extremely strongly committed to food safety and has food safety policies in place throughout all areas of the company: seedling production, greenhouse activities and the packaging department. To support its sales to retail customers, Agrícola Zarattini works with a system based on international food safety standards, and its greenhouses are certified under the SQF and PrimusGFS international audit schemes in addition to being recognised by the Mexican National Service for Agro-Alimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) programme.
“This focus on food safety is one of the reasons that we use a microorganism-based approach in our soil management. In the past, we had problems with root diseases. The technical team first brought the Bactiva method to our attention around ten years ago and we have been using this solution for our pepper production ever since,” says Melchor. “We use it from the moment of planting, and then we apply it every month at a dose of one kilogram per hectare. We source it through our contact Raul Ulises Andrade Ruiz and his company, which is based in Celaya here in the state of Guanajuato. The supplier’s representatives help us to make evaluations of the product and they visit us once a month to analyse the product and evaluate the presence of microorganisms.”
The solution is developed and supplied by an alliance of companies in Europe and North America focused on the treatment of roots with microorganisms that boost plant growth. Soil harbours many bacteria and fungi that benefit plants. They form a long-term relationship with the roots and the surrounding rhizosphere. The application of soilborne microorganisms makes it possible to optimise the supply of water and nutrients for the greenhouse plants.
“This natural way of strengthening plant health and resistance is a good fit with our commitment to sustainability. We have tried many other biological products in the past, but we believe we have found the best solution in Bactiva thanks to its high concentration of beneficial organisms. This product has really helped us to improve the health of our crops, especially peppers. We’ve also been able to reduce our use of agrochemicals and achieve better yields at the end of our production seasons,” he explains.
At Agrícola Zarattini they still see plenty of potential to build on the success of this natural approach. “In the future we want to make greater use of biological control, for both diseases and pests,” states Melchor. This will help the vegetable production company to continue on its path towards further international expansion based on quality and food safety, not only in North America, but also increasingly worldwide.
Based in Mexico, vegetable production company Agrícola Zarattini grows peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus and strawberries, predominantly for export markets. The company sets itself apart through high standards of quality, and has bold ambitions: to achieve international recognition as the best company of its kind in Mexico. Sustainability and food safety are key pillars of the company’s success. The use of soilborne microorganisms to tackle root disease in its pepper crops is a good example of its biological approach to optimising crop health, quality and yield.
Text: Lynn Radford. Images: Agrícola Zarattini.