By Elizabeth Niven
Located east of the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, between the Gulf of California and the mountain spurs of the Sierra Madre Occidental, the fertile Sinaloa valley in Mexico produces 25 percent of Mexico’s annual corn crop, which is 50 percent of the corn used for tortillas, Mexico’s main food source.
In February 2010, freezing temperatures in Sinaloa wiped out 90 percent of this corn crop, an overwhelming loss to the Mexican economy that potentially would impact local food resources and the international corn market.
This untimely weather event shocked Sinaloa farmers.
Initially irrigation farmers flooded their fields, hoping that the water would help stave off the impact of sustained subzero temperatures. It didn’t work.
Unaccustomed to the late frost, farmer Victor Artola called a friend in Nebraska, “I asked him how long my corn could endure the freezing temperatures. He said that the temperature needed to be -4 degrees Celsius for at least 4 hours to kill my crop. Four hours later, I knew I had a total loss for 95 percent of my land.”
It was four months into the winter growing season and the crop was gone. Within 48 hours, Monsanto put more than 50 people in place to focus on a plan of action to deal with the most damaging frost that this area had experienced in more than 60 years.
In order to provide replanting seed, Monsanto outlined specific objectives: to select the best seeds for replanting given the available shorter season, distribute those seeds where needed and share best practices in the field with the farmers. Time was critical – the farmers would need the seed immediately after they cleared their fields.
In this initial stage of the crisis, Monsanto sent a plan to government officials with recommendations and their plan to help speed the recovery and give farmers the longest growing season possible.
Mario Lopez Valdez, the governor of Sinaloa, supported and advanced the plan. He said, “From day one, Monsanto had a proposal put together with a plan to provide the seeds to rescue the Sinaloa farmers. I supported the plan 100 percent and immediately notified the President of the Republic to take action.”
Behind the scenes, the Monsanto team worked closely with the seed technology, development and breeding teams to evaluate and select hybrids that would work best in the shorter season.
According to Sales Lead Gerardo Vaqueiro, there were two challenges: the environmental and cycle conditions that would be different for the replanted crop and then locating available inventory. They were able to secure tropical hybrids that were part of the inventories for southeast Mexico and Venezuela. Finally, they coordinated with the manufacturing teams and the team on the ground to get the seed to the farmers in Sinaloa.
“We also provided support to farmers,” said Vaqueiro. “Since these seeds had not been used by our farmers in Sinaloa and certainly not under these circumstances, we wanted to provide support and guidance to make sure our farmers had the best chance for success.”
Within 13 days of the frost, farmers in Sinaloa replanted 155,000 hectares (383,013 acres) with more than 200,000 bags of seeds distributed by Monsanto. In order to help the farmers replant and recover, Monsanto sold all the available seed at a 50 percent discount.
In the end, Sinaloa farmers harvested 3 million tons of corn, more than half a normal harvest. The hard-working farmers of Sinaloa with the support of their responsive Monsanto seed team were pleased with the result, knowing that they averted a more substantial and far-reaching crisis by rescuing the 2010 winter corn crop, for the community and for Mexico.