In the North American winter months, high-quality Mexican produce supplies much of the United States with fresh vegetables and fruits. U.S. agricultural imports from Mexico are substantial: Mexico ranks as the third largest agricultural trading partner of the United States. In fact, the U.S. buys approximately 80 percent of Mexico’s total agricultural exports today, about USD 18 billion in agricultural products.
If you’ve ever wondered about Mexico’s ability to manufacture so much food and export so much to U.S. consumers, this article is for you.
Mexico’s Farm Lands
About 15 percent of Mexico’s 200 million hectares are dedicated to agricultural crops. About 58 percent of Mexico’s farmland is used to raise livestock. Much of Mexico is either too arid or mountainous for planting crops or grazing animals.
Almost 65 percent of Mexico’s soils are suitable for low-yield crops. However, with 11 different soil types and climate patterns in Mexico, about 26 percent of the land is able to support high-yield crops:
- About 20 percent of all Mexican farm fields use irrigation. This factor is especially important in the growth of cotton and alfalfa crops in northern Mexico. Investments in underground aquifers protect more small farmers against water depletion.
- About 20 percent of Mexico’s potential growing lands can be made arable with modern technologies.
- Central and Gulf growing regions of Mexico have more soil varieties as well as higher population densities.
Soil diversity, climates, and ingenuity of farmers contribute to Mexico’s ability to grow and export so much.
Most Produced Foods in Mexico
Mexico agriculture is big business. About 25 percent of Mexico’s 127.5 million people live and farm in the rural countryside. Most depend on farming and agriculture as a way of life. The country’s expansive and irrigated farms in the north and northeast sections are responsible for some of the most produced foods in Mexico, such as vegetables, wheat, oilseeds, and sorghum.
Mexico’s primary agricultural areas include:
- Northern Mexico Agriculture. Farmers in the northern region promote Chinese eggplant, tomatoe, watermelon, broccoli, snow peas, and other specialty crops to Asian-American consumers.
- Bajío Central Highlands. Mexico agricultural products are diversified today. About 50 percent of Mexico agriculture is in the central highlands. Small-scale farms, more frequently owned and managed by women, grow hardy crops of beans and maize. Farmers use surface storage irrigation that doesn’t indefinitely retain water for crops. For that reason, crop yield is variable because rainfall isn’t predictable in the region. Avocado is also heavily produced in this area.
- Greater Mexico City region. Farmers tending crops at the outskirts of Mexico City’s urban sprawl grow fruits, vegetables, feed grains, and oilseeds.
- Gulf of Mexico Tropical Mexico regions. In the south, Mexico agriculture in the tropics is focused on coffee and sugarcane crops. Farmers export most of the coffee they grow. Bananas, mangos, pineapples, vanilla (a native Mexican plant), chili peppers, agave, cacao, citrus, barley, and rice are also important crops here.
In the 21st century, the U.S. imports live cattle, corn, vegetables, fruits, eggs, pork, beef, and much more from Mexico agriculture exporters. Much of Mexico’s agricultural productivity results from the revitalized operations of ejidos, or communal farms.
Mexico’s Communal Farms Feed the U.S.
The state of Mexico agriculture today began about 100 years ago. The communal farm system was conceived in the early years of the 20th century. At that time, private land holdings belonging to a short list of owners were redistributed to co-op groups. The Mexican government wanted to ensure that farmers would have future livelihoods.
Since the ejidos once forbade the farmers from selling or renting the land – or pledging it as collateral to purchase other goods and services – farmers are beneficially tied to it. Until the 1980s decade, the Mexican government’s subsidies paid twice the market price for farmers’ crops.
Price subsidies for Mexico agriculture weren’t sustainable. Productivity started to decline as the workforce of Mexico agriculture grew so, in the last two decades, the agricultural sector underwent major reforms.
By the mid-1990s, a 15-year program known as Procampo helped farmers shift from protected crop supports to an open market producer system. During the transition, farmers were paid a fixed amount per hectare. The Mexican government hoped that farmers would modernize, grow new or diversify existing crops. That’s when the robust plan to market Mexico agricultural exports to the world was conceived.
During the period, the ejidos system evolved to increase self-sufficiency. In 1992, farmers were given the right to rent or sell farmlands.
Livestock in Mexico
Livestock products represent about 30 percent of the agricultural output in Mexico. Farmers produce livestock, milk, eggs, and poultry, but not enough to supply the demand from Mexican consumers. That’s why Mexico imports the remainder of its meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products from the U.S:
- Northern Mexico raises about 30 percent of livestock, Central Mexico raises about 25 percent, and the Gulf region farmers raise about 44 percent.
- Cattle breeds include Angus, Charolais, and Hereford are raised in the north; Criollo, a local Mexican breed brought originally from Spain, is raised in central Mexico; and Zebu cattle breeds are raised in the south.
- About 40 percent of dairy cattle are raised in the north, 48 percent are raised in the central region, and 10 percent are raised in the tropical farm region. Dairy farming is a growth industry in Mexico.
After cattle and dairy cows, Mexican farmers raise goats and sheep. Approximately 20 percent of these animals are raised in the north, 58 percent in the central region, and 22 percent in the tropical region. Many of today’s goats are descendants of original animals brought from Spain hundreds of years ago. About three-fourths of goats are raised for dairy products in Guanajuato, Coahuila, and Durango.
Because Mexico’s available pasture is insufficient to support its commercial livestock farming and production, many Mexican farmers grow feedstocks as a crop. The number of Mexican farmers growing food for livestock has doubled since the 1990s.
North American Free Trade Area
In 1994, NAFTA further promoted Mexico agriculture to the export arena. The United States imports fruit, vegetables, coffee, live cattle, and other Mexico agricultural products. Since NAFTA’s implementation, bilateral trade between Mexico and the U.S. has grown dramatically. Mexico agricultural exports to the U.S. have generated average double-digit annual growth rates.
Similarly, United States agricultural exports have expanded at similar rates to Mexico, demonstrating the mutually beneficial results NAFTA products to both countries’ agricultural sectors. Today, the United States primarily exports grains, wheat, red meats (more pork than beef), dairy products, soy beans, poultry, agricultural feeds and fodder, cotton, sugar, animal fats, and processed vegetables and fruits.
Clearly, Mexico agriculture and U.S. agriculture have developed a strong trade partnership. The U.S.-Mexico Cross-Border Trucking Demonstration Project (2011-2014) attempted to evaluate the potential of long-haul trucking operations at the U.S.-Mexico border. The goal of the project was to reduce the cost of dairy products to many Mexican consumers.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) concluded that the Mexican trucking company participants operated at or above safety requirements in the U.S. As a result, the program participants were granted permission to continue to deliver Mexico agriculture products to and from the U.S.
Examples of Mexican – U.S. Agribusiness Trade
Mexico is a net importer of U.S. grains. That’s good news for American farmers. Mexico produces and exports more fruits, vegetables, and beverages to the United States. The fastest growing exports to the United States are tomatoes, avocados, and other winter fruits like squash, fruit juices, and fresh flowers. Most tomatoes eaten in the U.S. come from Mexico today. U.S. consumers enjoy tomatoes year-round in salads, soups, and on sandwiches because of its Mexico agriculture partnership. The U.S. banned Mexican avocados for more than 80 years but agreed to import them again in 1997 from the state of Michoacán.
Large agribusinesses in Mexico include Grupo Maseca, known for its tortilla products, with headquarters in Monterrey. With proximity to the U.S., Gruma S.A.B. de C.V. is one of the biggest corn flour producers in the U.S. Pulsar International, also located in Monterrey, operates in more than 120 countries around the world.
A wide spectrum of U.S. agribusinesses have investments and operations in Mexico, such as Pilgrim’s Pride, Campbell Soup, Ralston Purina, and Pilgrim’s Pride, a large Mexico poultry products company.
If you’re impressed by the number of agricultural goods produced and exported by Mexico, you’re in good company. The U.S. – Mexican balance of trade has reached near-equilibrium. In 2015, Mexico exported a stunning USD 22 billion of agricultural goods to U.S. consumers. Consumers in the United States enjoyed high-quality, cheap produce followed by a rise at the cash register in 2016.
Economists say that overall market shares aren’t likely to change in the near future. Mutually beneficial tariffs and shared geographies continue to promote a strong trading relationship for agricultural products.