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Claudia Bernal, Mountain Range Produce:

"In Colombia we grow avocados in 12 months of rain with no sunshine all year"

Avocados that are above average in size, rich in oil and that does not see sunshine for nearly a year while receiving constant rain about 8 200 feet above sea level, high up in the mountains of tropical  Colombia. Growing these avocado trees is the newfound passion of USA based Claudia Bernal, an accountant who moved from her native Colombia 20 years ago to follow her dream of working with finances.

Claudia Bernal with one of her trees

Bernal and her fellow Colombian avocado small grower neighbours have a challenge – they do not have a pack house facility to prepare and ship their precious avocados. Their Hass avocados – grafted onto older native South American Criollo variety of avocados as rootstocks to withstand the constantly wet weather – are ready for harvesting and exporting. She currently has 40 tons to harvest. By December 2022 they will have at least 100 tons to harvest.

“We are new in this business. I have three farms, that I built by myself from my salary in the USA. I am still an accountant. I help my Colombian neighbours to verify to export to the USA. We have everything ready to export. We don’t have a pack house. Although everybody says we want to export your avocados, if we cannot export under our own brand name, it is not worth the effort we put into our trees. We will try to figure out how to make the packing. Our government will make sure we send the avocados in the right condition.

"We use a company that says they are going to pack our produce only if we export through them. Unfortunately it will go in a different name. The problem is they will say it’s from another company. It will be fine for us to use any other packing plant, to pack but under our own brand. We are a group of small producers, who give personal attention to our trees, that’s why it’s good quality. The biggest farms are between 27-30 hectares, with most between 14-20 hectares. We are not big companies who grow regular avocados. We have premium big sized avocados. We spend a lot of time in the trees. We don’t have a lot of pests. We take care of the neighbours to ensure no one suffers due to some type of bug,” explains Bernal.

Her passion for avocados stems from her childhood in Colombia, growing up on her grandfather’s avocado farm. “As a little kid I remember eating the Criollo avocados with a long neck, which was very productive and delicious but not grown commercially. I moved to US 20 years ago. My goal was to be a very successful accountant. My whole family are still here in Colombia. My parents are very old. I came back to find something to be busy with while watching my parents at the same time.

"I came back to buy my grandpa’s property and grow avocados. I planted Hass avocado, after I bought 2 000 trees from a local nursery with certified  material from California with unknown rootstocks. Almost all the trees died. I went back to California, there was a research university close to where I used to live. I asked them about the problem, why were the trees not successful. They conducted research and concluded the rootstock was not resistant to the constantly rainy, cold and wet weather in the Colombian mountains. I decided to use the native trees from my grandfather that are still in the ground as rootstocks.

"It took about 5 years to graft the Hass onto the Criollo rootstocks. Now I have a very good tree that does not have problems. We have non-stop rain. It literally rains every day, we have not seen the sun in a year. Our farms are situated in Antioquia, the mountain where the Andes come together, hence my company name Mountain Range Produce. After grafting the Hass I have very beautiful trees, that are resistant to the wet conditions. They produce very good quality Hass avocados, with very big sizes that are very robust. Due to the high elevation the avocados are rich in oil, it has a lot of flavour. Unlike the fast growing avocados close to the ocean,” explains Bernal.

Bernal commutes between Colombia and the USA every 2-3 months. She is still a certified public accountant who works with her son Sebastian in their accounting firm. Her daughter Valentina is currently helping her with the whole process of reproduction and research with the new rootstock.  She is a PhD candidate conducting research as a plant pathologist technologist at UC Riverside.

“Right now Europe is a market that is not working for Colombia due to the low prices. I’m trying to send the avocados to the USA. The premium avocados can be exported to other countries. We have different sizes of fruit, which we also sell in the local market. We have a lot of possibilities with avocado oil. We need some help,” stated Bernal.

For more information:
Claudia Bernal
Mountain Range Produce
Tel: +1 5592847148

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