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Colombia on track to double potato production for McCain

According to Daniel Caldiz, global director of agronomy at McCain Foods, who was in Bogota last week, the multinational, which is the absolute leader of the world's industrial potato market, is pleased with the evolution of the Colombian market and with the agricultural efforts made to respond to the consumers' interest in their frozen potatoes for frying, which is distributed in supermarkets and offered in restaurant chains. 

The manager noted that, even though the company's operation in Colombia was small when compared to other regions in the world, its performance was striking. 

Currently, the company processes between 32,000 and 34,000 tons of raw materials in Colombia, whereas in 2006 that volume only amounted to 20,000 tons. 

"In 2016, we would practically double the volume of raw material that we processed in 2006. This significant development is due to the market's conditions," said the senior manager. 

"We can't increase crop production if it's not accompanied by an increased market demand," he said. 

In this regard, the company announced it expected to grow by 11% this year in Colombia, four points above last year's growth. 

During 2013 the multinational sold about $60 million dollars. Estimates are that Colombia is the company's most dynamic market among the Andean countries. 

Caldiz said that the increased productivity of the crops has been fundamental for the increase of processed potatoes. 

Overall, the country's average production was of about 17 tons per hectare a few years ago and in 2014 it is about 25 tons. 

"If we compare that level of production with McCain Colombia's crops in 2000, we cans see the company already had yields of 27 tons per hectare, and in 2014 we are above 40 tons per hectare," he said. 

According to Caldiz, the technology that the company brought in the past fourteen years has enhanced crop yields significantly and that has also benefitted farmers because, as they become more productive, they can make better use of their lands and use them for other products. 

This increase in productivity is the result of the work the company does and that Caldiz himself implemented as agronomy manager in South America. 

The overall management of the multinational company was in the country last week as a lecturer at the XXVI Congress of the Latin American Association of Potato, Alap, but he also reviewed the current agronomy program to see what could be done to improve yields and the raw material's quality.

Currently, the multinational is working with more than a hundred producers of Nariño, Boyacá and Cundinamarca. Globally, McCain purchases about 5 million tons of potatoes and about 250,000 tons of vegetables (peas, carrots, sweetcorn) per year to 3,000 producers. 

Caldiz stated that the company sought to make their operations more profitable worldwide. He also noted that they aimed at establish lasting relationships with farmers and that they tried to give them all the information that the company generated in their research area, as well as that produced by universities and specialized research centres. 

In his lecture as part of the Congress of the Alap, Caldiz spoke about the business challenges of the industrial potato in Latin America. In his view, the first challenge is climate change and the need for varieties and technologies that respond to this phenomenon. 

Another challenge he spoke about was the need to improve seed quality to generate new crops. It is striking that producers have continued to use their culture as their own seed production, which can impair performance and quality. Another opportunity is to achieve more productive and disease-resistant varieties. 

The use of good agricultural practices and greater interaction between companies, producers and government agencies are other important factors that will advance the industry, he said. 

Fair conditions for producers 
The CEO of McCain for the Andean Region, headquartered in Bogota, Francois Simonpietri said that, "McCain has sought to join the task of improving the conditions of Colombian farmers through fair trade." 

This benefit plan's cornerstone is mutual trust. This allows the multinational to currently have 2,200 acres of potatoes grown under their model, which sets the price, volume and profitability of the crop, regardless of the variables that the market has. 

Meanwhile, farmers can count on pre-harvest benefits. 

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