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Avocado Institute of Mexico Sponsored Series

Avocados: The Farm-to-Table Journey of America’s Favorite Fruit

Meet the Family Farmer Growing Your Avocados

By Mary Riddle
Farming avocados — man picks avocados from a tree

Hass Avocados being harvested in a grove in Michoacán, Mexico.

Avocado trees are native to southern Mexico, where they grew as wild cultivars for thousands of years before the Aztec and Maya people began growing the crop domestically. Today, avocado production is an economic powerhouse for the region. 

The avocado industry has enjoyed record-breaking growth in recent years, and per-capita consumption in the U.S. has steadily climbed, as well as avocado imports from Mexico. The dramatic growth in avocado imports has been good for the U.S. economy, according to a report from researchers at Texas A&M University’s Agribusiness Food and Consumer Economics Research Center in partnership with Avocados From Mexico. In fiscal year 2021-2022, U.S. imports of Mexican Hass avocados added $6.1 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product and created 58,299 jobs. On the Mexican side of the border, hundreds of thousands of people earn their living from the prized fruit.

Michoacán, a Mexican state on the western coast, is at the heart of the country's avocado sector and produces 73 percent of all avocados grown in Mexico. It is also where Martin Mendoza calls home and where he has been growing avocados since he was 16 years old. “My mother started our family’s farm in 1980, and my brothers and I started growing avocados then,” he told TriplePundit.

Michoacán: The global center of avocado production

Today, Mendoza and his four brothers manage a 250-acre operation, where they grow 15,000 avocado trees, divided into five orchards. “Our farm is spread out at diverse elevations between 1,400 and 2,700 meters above sea level,” Mendoza explained. “The difference in climates at the various locations allows us to harvest avocados year-round.”

Michoacán is a lush environment, with rainforests, pine forests and deciduous forests spread throughout the state. “From my orchards, you can see the Colima Volcano. In the past few weeks, it has had snow on top of it that we can see from the farm,” Mendoza reflected.

Mendoza typically starts his day on the farm around 7 a.m. When his employees arrive, they go over their plan for the day and address any production problems before any other work begins. While the farm’s full-time work crew consists of 20 employees, during times of heavy harvesting, they also manage outside picking crews.  

Approximately 90 percent of avocado imports in the U.S. come from Mexico, and until recently, Michoacán was the only Mexican state to meet the rigorous requirements of the U.S. export program — which includes certifying the fruits are free from pests and plant disease, among other requirements. “We have participated in the export program since its inception, and we export mostly to the U.S.,” Mendoza said of his farm.

the view of the snow-capped Paricutín volcano from Mendoza's avocados farm
The view of the snow-capped Colima volcano from Mendoza's avocado farm. 

Ensuring sustainability and safety

Mendoza has spent decades learning about the needs of avocado trees. For example, avocado trees are highly sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation. With much of Mexico experiencing drought, farmers are conscious of water use. “Climate change has affected our entire region,” Mendoza said. “However, in Michoacán we are blessed with a lot of rainfall. It rains most months of the year, and the rich, volcanic soil in Michoacán holds moisture and keeps the avocados alive without the use of irrigation.” 

In Mendoza’s orchards, 80 percent of his trees rely solely on rainfall and soil moisture, and only 20 percent require additional irrigation. To ensure maximum uptake and avoid runoff, Mendoza utilizes micro-sprinklers and drip irrigation. These microirrigation technologies allow for greater precision by directing water only to the trees that need supplemental irrigation. Additionally, Mendoza harvests rainwater during the months with higher rainfall to use for irrigation during dry seasons. 

The farm also invests in food safety and quality, and for Mendoza, that starts with the health of his employees. All employees undergo regular testing to ensure that nobody is sick while handling the avocados, and the Mendozas provide medical services for all employees working in their orchards. 

They also monitor their water supply and ensure that any agricultural product that touches the avocados is environmentally-friendly and safe for consumers. “The guidelines for the export program are very strict, and they cover employees, tools, chemicals and more. We have to be impeccable,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza’s farm also carries additional responsible agriculture certifications, including Global GAP, and they employ a monitor who ensures that all outside picking crews and other employees are following responsible farming practices in each of the five orchards. 

“We are very careful about the environment,” Mendoza said. "We take care of the land because we depend on it. Responsible farming practices are generally a key characteristic of Michoacán.”

Family farmers in Michoacán drive the avocado sector

The avocado sector in Michoacán provides an economic boost to the entire region through employment opportunities and additional outside investments, but this vibrant local economy would not be possible without the hard work of family farmers.

About 80 percent of avocado growers in Michoacán are smallholders with less than 12 acres, Mendoza said. “The avocado industry benefits thousands of farming families. There are 180,000 hectares in the avocado export program, but they are mostly the small family farms that support this industry.”

Running a larger farm in a sector that provides so many in the community with a livelihood is a lot of responsibility, but Mendoza said he embraces it. 

“Avocados are the main economic engine of our state in terms of job creation and the economy,” he said. “My main challenge as a grower is to continue to export and continue to grow so I can generate employment for my community, but I am motivated by the challenge of making a good name for avocados from Michoacán. I am very proud to be Michoacáno.”

This article series is sponsored by the Avocado Institute of Mexico and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Images courtesy of the Avocado Institute of Mexico

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Mary Riddle is the director of sustainability consulting services for Obata. As a former farmer and farm educator, she is passionate about regenerative agriculture and sustainable food systems. She is currently based in Florence, Italy.

Read more stories by Mary Riddle