Dr. Báez Sañudo is a professor researcher with 28 years of professional work in the area of Food Science and Technology, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. He conducts research related to post-harvest physiology, quality and management of fruits and vegetables, as well as on subjects related to food safety in implementing good agricultural practices in the primary production of vegetables.

He also develops research projects on subjects of vegetable production in protected environments. He is the founder and professor of CIAD in subjects such as: Post-Harvest Management and Physiological Analysis and Fruit and Vegetable Quality Techniques, as well as an Assignment Professor at Tec de Monterrey in Agribusiness Projects. He actively engages with the productive sector to a state and domestic level as an advisor. He is frequently involved to a domestic level as a guest speaker and course professor in the areas of food safety, post-harvest management, and protected agriculture.

1. What is the importance of scientific research for companies in Sinaloa?

It is definitely the best investment for any company and/or country is to bet on searching and generating new knowledge, as well as its use and application.

These days, the areas intended for science and technology comprise the basis for development and welfare of the society in general. Knowledge application in the field of any company involves development and consolidation of its employees, making them more educated and critical, which makes them more adjusted and able to react to changes in their environment.

The resource being applied by companies in the fields of science and technology through research projects should not be seen as an expense, but as an investment that will be beneficial in solving particular problems, that will make them more competitive in the globalized world we live in today. Not investing in science will leave them behind their competitors, having to depend on the knowledge generated in other countries and paying a higher cost for it. Not all knowledge generation is expensive, and it will have to be evaluated from different points of view.

2. How important is the relationship of the academia with farming companies?

One of the purposes of the academia is generating knowledge, for it to be applied in the search for solutions to detected problems. Farming companies should get closer to knowledge-generating institutions, and in turn, the academia should also get closer to the productive sector, to listen to the needs in the voice of growers themselves. While it is true that knowledge generation is costly, it is more difficult to solve problems along the longer road of trial and error to find the solution. I feel that more trust and communication is needed from the productive sector with the academia, and that in turn the academia commits to find quick and reliable solutions to the problems being faced by farming companies on a daily basis.

3. What projects is the CIAD currently working on?

In 2006, Japan lifted the quarantine that had been imposed to Mexican tomatoes since the 1940s, claiming that grown varieties were susceptible to tobacco blue mold disease (Peronospora tabacina, Adam). The above was an achievement thanks to the studies being carried out by the CIAD in cooperation with the Japanese government, to determine that tomatoes in our country were free from such disease. Now, again with the support of AMHPAC and CAADES the following project is being developed: Determination of susceptibility of commercial hybrids from Chile bell (Capsicum annum, L.) to tobacco blue mold, in order to suspend the quarantine that is also being held against this crop in Japan.

Another project in operation is focused on developing bio-bactericides based on bacteriophages to control Ralstonia solanacearum and Xanthomonas spp. Several biorrational products are also being evaluated to control plant pathogen nematodes; and another project has as a purpose to track the microbial source from Salmonella in surface water for agricultural use in the state of Sinaloa.

Evaluation of post-harvest quality of new tomato hybrids and other vegetables is a project being demanded year after year by the main vegetable seed companies with presence in the state.

4. Given your experience, how do you think the production of vegetables has evolved in Sinaloa?

From this new century, the use of greenhouses and mesh shades has come to revolution the production of vegetables in Sinaloa and Mexico. The area intended to the production of tomatoes and other vegetables in the open field is constantly decreasing, because under protected conditions, climate and pests can be partially controlled; which has led to an increase in yields and quality of the fruit. This has resulted in a reduction of the area intended for planting vegetables and a save in water and fertilizers.

Also, you can perceive these days the need to practice a more sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture. This is why the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers is gradually being replaced by the use of organic and bio-rational compounds such as composts, teas, humus, leachates, and plant extracts, among others.

The use of grafts is also a technology which has recently caused an impact in producing vegetables in Sinaloa. Each agriculture cycle, more producers are looking for graft holders which can adapt to their production conditions because, by showing resistance or tolerance to soil diseases, mostly nematodes, they are allowing to enlarge the crop cycle, obtaining higher yields and better fruit quality for exports.

5. How important is food safety in vegetable production?

If we think food safety is the guarantee for food not to be harmful to the consumer when it is prepared or ingested, then all those players involved in the production chain (field-packaging facility-distribution), must commit in carrying out actions that lead to reducing the potential of fruit causing problems to the health of the consumer.

With that in mind, implementing programs such as Good Agricultural Practices (BPA) and Good Manufacturing Practices (BPM) during production and management stages of vegetables should be aimed at preventing the contamination of fruits by any physical, chemical or biological means.

It is important to consider that fresh vegetables are foods which are normally consumed without cooking or with a minimum preparation (minimally processed foods) so the risk of contamination is greater than for fruits which must be cooked. The most effective strategy to ensure that vegetables are healthy and safe for human consumption is to prevent product contamination by any microbiological pathogen or by dangerous levels of any chemical residue or physical contaminant.

In 2008, an outbreak caused by the bacteria ‘Saint Paul’ Salmonella in the US was caused by the consumption of tomatoes from Mexico. Subsequently, it was confirmed that the Mexican tomato was not the cause for this outbreak, although it is estimated that losses to the Mexican economy after the conflict were for over 200 million dollars as a result of the marketing decline by 70%.

6. What are the main microbiological risks involving food safety in agricultural production?

The risk implies the potential of a danger occurring. Speaking of microbiological hazards, there will always be the probability that these are present in vegetables from Sinaloa by causing diseases, so the application of Good Agricultural Practices (BPA) aimed at reducing the probability of fresh vegetables becoming contaminated should be a priority.

Historically, in Sinaloa the presence of microorganisms causing human diseases has been detected in agricultural waters, as well as in the hands of workers, packing conveyors, cold room walls, and utensils used in the harvest such as buckets. This includes mostly Fecal Coliforms, Salmonella, Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes.

7. How do you think the new international regulations such as FSMA and the new requirements of buyers and consumers impact companies?

I believe that the new international regulations such as the FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) have a positive impact on vegetable exporting companies as their processes will be more systematic, including product logbooks and traceability; that is, they will have better control of their operations. The FDA regulatory instruments are intended to act in a preventive and non-reactive manner, to prevent illness caused by food consumption. While it is true that much of the responsibility concerning food safety falls directly on the grower, it is now importers who are responsible for verifying which company they are buying from. The above is part of the new markets where consumers, concerned about their health and well-being, want to be aware and learn more about what they are eating (where, when, who, how it was produced, etc.); therefore, exporters should focus on providing what the end consumer demands instead of supplying vegetables motivated by the offer.

8. How important are certifications for farming companies?

In the global market, today certifications represent more a component of competitiveness than of quality. We do not expect to obtain higher prices for a certified product, but that certification allows us to maintain and access new markets. Therefore, seeking to certify horticultural products to meet the commercial demand of the customer and, at the same time, ensure that this is a transparent certification recognized by the GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) when the approach is food safety.

There are certifications in other areas where compliance is merely commercial. Therefore, the negotiation of prices and sales volumes of farming companies towards the buyer (distributor – supermarket) can be managed according to the quality of the fruit, but never putting product food safety first.

9. What are the main challenges the farming industry is facing today?

Currently, I believe that farming industry is facing new challenges derived mostly from market globalization, by modifying the ways of production and consumption.

Marketing is still the main subject of being able to obtain good prices for the crops obtained. Now with protected agriculture, it is possible to produce at any place and time of the year, obtaining higher yields which cannot be fully marketed.

Likewise, the Mexican market is open to receive horticultural products from other parts of the world with the 11 trade agreements currently in force with 46 countries, although our country also has the challenge of being able to access distant markets with the use of new technologies.

Another challenge is climate change, which is a reality and must be faced with the greatest knowledge. Using new crops and varieties, changing planting dates, comprehensively managing new and adapted pests and diseases, among other events, are some of the effects that have been experienced in recent years due to climate change.

Contact: manuel.baez@ciad.mx