Feb 212011

Corn production has been the core of Mexican agriculture throughout its history, and continues to be very important. Production has increased by more than 40% since 2000. Currently corn is grown on about half of all agricultural land. However, corn is a rather low value crop and accounts for only about 14% of total crop value.

Corn, for both human and livestock consumption, is grown virtually everywhere in Mexico and is the leading crop in 17 of the 32 states. The leader in volume of corn produced is Sinaloa with 28% of the national total. Other major corn states are Jalisco (12%), State of Mexico (6%), Michoacán, Guanajuato and Guerrero (5% each).

The unusually cold weather in early February 2011 hit farming areas in northern Mexico particularly hard. Farmers in Sinaloa, the “Bread Basket of Mexico,” report that 300,000 hectares (750,000 acres) of corn were destroyed after unusually cold temperatures in the first few weeks of the year. A further 300,000 hectares suffered some damage. Sinaloa has 470,000 hectares of farmland devoted to the white corn used to make tortillas; 90% of this area has been damaged. Heriberto Felix Guerra, federal Secretary for Social Development (SEDESOL) called the weather-related losses the worst disaster in Sinaloa’s history. The economic loss could exceed three billion dollars.

The federal Agriculture Secretariat is rushing urgent aid to farmers, including tax breaks and low-interest loans for seed, in the hopes that many of them can replant their corn crop while there is still time. As of today, more than 130,000 hectares of corn in Sinaloa have already been replanted. The aim is to reseed between 200,000 and 300,000 ha (500,000-750,000 acres) of corn, for an eventual harvest (in Sinaloa) of 3 million metric tons of corn. The reseeding must be completed by 10 March as, after that date, there are too few “growing days” to guarantee a harvest. Average yields in Sinaloa for white corn are expected to fall from their usual 10 tons/ha to around 7 tons/ha this year.

Mexico has an annual shortfall in corn production and always has to import some corn (mainly from the USA and South Africa) to meet total domestic demand. This year, the government is considering raising its usual import quotas to ensure ample supplies of corn (and tortillas) for the coming year. Corn prices have already shot up; Mexico’s imports are going to cost a lot more than in recent years.

Citrus orchards, tomato crops and other vegetables were also decimated. Tomatoes are by far the most important horticultural crop in Sinaloa, but other crops affected include green beans, squash and chiles. It will be another 6 weeks to 2 months before another tomato harvest is possible. The price of tomatoes also rose immediately and could double, at least temporarily, within the next few weeks.

The Mexican tomato crop is mainly the larger Roma variety which is widely used in the fast food industry. Already at least one fast-food chain in the USA is adding tomato slices to hamburgers only on request; the smaller tomatoes used in salads are not affected by the recent cold snap.

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