Interview: Antonio Jesús Beltrán Ochoa, Chairman of the Eleven Rivers Growers Board.

Mr. Antonio Jesús Beltrán Ochoa is the current Chairman of Eleven Rivers Growers, and also the Manager of Agrícola BelHer. He graduated from a Bachelor’s Degree in Agribusiness by California Polytechnic State University. He also holds a certification for special studies on Administration and Management by Harvard University, and he is also certified under the advanced management program for senior management in agribusiness, and AD-2 senior management by IPADE Business School.

1. Could you share a bit of your experience as a professional?

I have worked at Agrícola BelHer for over a decade. This is a family business engaged in producing tomato. We are located in La Palma, Sinaloa. I have been the CEO of the company for the last 10 years.

I had the great opportunity of experiencing the technologic shift in tomato production; from being a company growing at open field, to become a company growing with protected production at 100% (greenhouses and mesh shades).  

We also ventured in the agriculture business in Tolimán, Jalisco, where we started operations for tomato production. We used more sophisticated greenhouses there than those we use in Sinaloa. I am very happy to say that we are a company growing and exporting tomato all year round.

2. Why is the Eleven Rivers Growers certification squeme important?

Eleven Rivers Growers had been a tool which has led us to achieve many of our purposes. Being a company in compliance with the most demanding food safety and social responsibility international standard has caused an impact in us.

Thanks to its weekly management, potential food safety risks are considerably reduced. In addition, it takes us by the hand so we can constantly review of processes and ensure that we are in compliance with the rules.

It has a very global approach. We feel happy and protected with the certification scheme  as it has been developed so far.

3. What are your long-term expectations as a Chairman of Eleven Rivers Growers?

We would like to exponentiate the commercial growth of the fruit and vegetable sector in Sinaloa, thus achieving to add more value to our sector. 

This is the most important part. We are a brand of CAADEs, and we want member growers from this association to gain more profitability in their crops.

4. How would you consider agricultural organizations provide support in Sinaloa?

Agricultural organizations are private entitled developed by growers; that is why they are effective in their actions and management. Their only interest is to generate benefits for their members.  An example of this is the struggle led by the Research Center for the Defense of Vegetables (CIDH – Comisión para la Investigación y Defensa de las Hortalizas) on the issue of tomato dumping.

Government support is also important to manage certain needs from growers. For instance, our state authorities help us manage issues with Federal Offices. At the same time, the Federal Government has supported us with international matters, such as the case I mention, with regards to the tomato suspension agreement.

5. What would you consider are the challenges pressing the agricultural sector in Sinaloa?

If we refer to the subjects addressed by Eleven Rivers, we can say that we still have a lot to do in terms of food safety and social responsibility. 

One of our purposes as an organization is to achieve that 100% of Sinaloa growers are certified with SENASICA’s Risk Reduction System. This is the minimum requirement for compliance that growers in Sinaloa and Mexico should have, to ensure our exports. Sometimes, the fact that a single grower does not take the proper steps towards certification may put entire industries at risk.

And of course, we must continue working in matters of social responsibility. Addressing the needs from growers and listening to unions, working all united with the same purpose, creating decent jobs, and generating benefits for all of those involved.

6. As a Manager of Agrícola BelHer, what have been the main challenges you have faced?

The most important challenge we have on a daily basis is the market, as it is has become increasingly competitive. We must achieve perfection in quality and efficiency in our production processes, in order to survive and excel in the industry. Being more competitive implies being updated with technological advances of the sector and able to apply them properly.

An important factor to be able to offer quality is having the tomato varieties that allow growing them as long as possible. Being able to have production all year long is a unique, competitive and differentiating advantage. It allows you to leverage windows with attractive prices and obtaining better averages.  

An interesting challenge in order to have quality and efficiency; is also being able to combine within your company the technology management, having the adequate processes, and most importantly, a human capital aligned to the vision.

7. What are the benefits obtained by Agrícola BelHer for being certified by Eleven Rivers Growers?

First of all, it is important to stand out that we have not had any event of food safety crisis in the history of our company; and we owe this to the great team we have in the food safety and social responsibility division. In much the same way, to the guidelines and follow-up that Eleven Rivers provides to our company.

Also, the certification scheme has allowed us to inform our clients about the processes being followed by Eleven Rivers.  It has been a tool to promote both our tomatoes and our company.

Finally, with the weekly visits we get from ANCE, verifying compliance with the certification scheme, they help us to always stay head in food safety and social responsibility.

8. What makes it different from other certifications and why would you recommend it?

This is a certification from growers to growers. We know where it hurts, and we are aware of what we need to check and verify more intensively to achieve excellence. This certification is very focused on growers.

9. What are the advantages of investing in technology in the agriculture environment?

This is one of the main investments needed to survive and stay competitive in the market.  It allows us to provide the best possible products to the client.  A basic part of new technologies is what enables us to make decisions with more information available.

10. Is there anything else you would like to add?

As Chairman of Eleven Rivers, I am committed to work so that member companies to our organizations may add more value to their products and be more successful in the future.