The rapid expansion of blueberry, blackberry and raspberry plantings and exports over the past 4 years, to just over 200 hectares (500 acres), in Jalisco, Mexico, during Covid-19 lockdowns, is by no means a small feat. According to CEO Sam Ahilan, CEO of FD Berries and FibreDust LLC, this is just the beginning, with active plans to expand berry production in the USA soon. FD Berries is a subsidiary of FibreDust LLC, manufacturers of coco coir peat products used in soil mix that improves aeration, drainage and moisture retention.
The secret to their rapid expansion is the ability to use different formulations of coco coir peat substrates together with some of the latest blueberry and raspberry varieties in each expansion of 100+ acres says Ahilan. Fibredust LLC has been in existence for 22 years with factories in Sri Lanka, India, and Mexico where the growing media is produced. It also one of the largest sellers and exporters with more than 3 000 containers of reprocessed coconut coir. Ahilan, who hails from Sri Lanka, but lives and works in the USA, specialises in finance and management. He holds CPA , MBA and CMA programs.
“When Covid came, we were looking to start our own farms for berry production. Almost four years ago we started in Jalisco, Mexico with 100 acres then expanded with 125 acres. We bought a neighbouring farm of 100 acres. Currently, we have more than 500 acres, where we grow berries in tunnels with 90% in substrates of the coco coir peat substrates used in soil mix that improves aeration, drainage and moisture retention.”
“We grow varieties such as Biloxi blueberries, Bianca, Atlas, Sophia and Sekoya pop and Beauty. These are great blend of berry varieties. We also have many different kinds of blackberry varieties such as Sultana, Von and Eranthi, as well as many varieties of raspberries including Diamond Jubilee, Adelita, Enrosardira, Primalba and Malu,” says Ahilan.
FD Berries has a presence in Cromwell Connecticut, USA while marketing their fruit through export companies such as Northbay Produce, Alpine Fresh and Berry World to North America. “These companies assist with funding and technical growing expertise. I also created our own brand FD Berries. As each of the current 5 phases of more than 100 acres each come into full production, we are harvesting more and more blueberries and raspberries. We harvest 2-3 million pounds of blueberries and 500,000 pounds of raspberries. If all goes well we will expand our growing operations further in partnership with others. We work with partners of exports for financing as well as financing from the USA. My aim is to double the existing acres to reach 1 000 acres,” explains Ahilan.
Why did he pick Mexico, with the struggles growers face there well known? “Sri Lanka, India and many countries around the world have their own challenges, you have to work through the system. Jalisco, Mexico is reasonably quiet. We have close to 1 000 employees. We offer housing and transport. By expanding to the USA the good people will be given a chance to come and work there. We are blessed with good people. I am looking to add more talent to our existing team. Luckily I have a great technical team and support from the marketing companies as part of the team. You have to work, understand the culture, respect and work with them. There are good and bad apples everywhere, even in the USA,” explains Ahilan.
The key for Ahilan is that they are substrate manufacturers. “We can show the rest of the people in the berry business, they can try it for themselves. We have different varieties to try. We attend trade shows from all over the world, Spain, Europe, China, Germany, the EU, Dubai and the USA. We have an established market for coconut coir, so we’re in a good position there. With the additions of berries we do a lot of trials. We will continue to focus on the North American market, with which we are happy. We also have limited exports to China and Europe,” concludes Ahilan.