Grupo Ceres, a group of Mexican companies that focuses on all aspects of business related to agriculture in Mexico, has helped both large and small farms operate at their fullest capacity since 1960. Rachel Hartman reports.
Mexico is the fourth largest producer of corn in the world. In 2006, it harvested an estimated 22 million tons of white corn. While many countries grow corn to feed livestock, Mexico mostly produces corn for human consumption.
In recent years, Grupo Ceres, a group of companies dedicated to agribusiness in Mexico, helped take corn production to a new level. Through a research and development program, Grupo Ceres created hybrids of corn and sorghum that yield some of the best harvests in Mexican fields.
A HISTORY OF HELPING FARMERS
Improving corn production is just one of the many ways that Grupo Ceres has aided its clients over the years. Since its formation in October 1960, Grupo Ceres has looked for ways to help farmers increase their land’s productivity rates. “Large or small, we help them all,” says Guillermo Elizondo, founder and president of Grupo Ceres. This philosophy has enabled farmers throughout Mexico, and especially those in the Northwest region of the country, where agriculture is abundant.
When Elizondo first founded the company, he brought with him an agriculture-based education from one of Mexico’s top schools and years of experience in the industry. “I graduated from the Tecnológico de Monterrey, and my specialty was based on plant breeding,” Elizondo explains. “After I graduated, I worked in a research program sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican government, but the salary was quite low. I switched jobs and started working for a fertilizer company, and then I went out on my own.”
One of the first companies that Elizondo created was “Cribas Portátiles del Noroeste” (Portable Sieves of the Northwest). “When I first started,” he recalls, “I didn’t have any capital, so I asked a friend of mine who was a banker for a loan. Little by little, I gathered funds until I had enough to purchase machinery from the United States, and that’s how Cribas Portatiles del Noroeste started.”
The business did well, and soon Elizondo formed another company, known as “Tractores y Semillas” (Tractors and Seeds), S.A. The two companies focused on distributing tractors and high-quality seeds, and also provided sieve services to help during harvest times. During the following years, the firm continued to expand, and products such as fertilizer were added to the business. A wide variety of services for all aspects of farming, including financing, construction, warehousing and shipping were also formed.
INVOLVED IN EVERY STEP OF FARMING
In addition to corn and sorghum, Mexico produces a long list of crops that are in high demand among its citizens, as well as on an international level. The country produces wheat, coffee, sugarcane, and tropical fruits and vegetables. Mexico is also one of the world’s leading producers of vanilla.
Grupo Ceres provides products and services to help the farmer during every season, from the initial planting to harvest and beyond. “One of the most important services we provide is offering credit and financing to farmers,” notes Elizondo. It can be difficult in Mexico for farmers to find solid credit and financial backing. Grupo Ceres makes “all types of credit” available to farmers, giving them a wide range of choices for their financing needs. “We also provide a farming contract option,” continues Elizondo. “We help plant the seeds, add fertilizer to make them grow, harvest the crops, and then sell them in the market.”
“We also have companies in our group that provide whatever type of machinery the farmer needs,” says Elizondo. We have many kinds of equipment and John Deere tractors, from sugar cane harvesters to tractors and elevators.” This allows Grupo Ceres to aid farmers throughout the country. The firm also provides storage, logistics and port terminal services. It helps unload and distribute fertilizers, grains, and other products.
The headquarters for Grupo Ceres can be found in the northwestern city of Los Mochis, Sinaloa, but farmers around the country benefit from the firm’s operations. “The areas of corn that we are involved with are located in the southern states of Yucatán, Oaxaca, and Chiapas,” says Elizondo. “We offer services in the central area of the country, in the states of Guanajuato, Zacatecas, and Durango. We also have clients in the northern region. Overall, we cover most of the country.” In the Northwest area of the country, Grupo Ceres is the leader in the market. At a national level, it is among the top four leaders in the industry.
Today, Grupo Ceres has approximately 8,200 agriculture-based clients, representing approximately 1,080,000 hectares. It employs 800 workers; 500 of these are direct and 350 are indirect. The group has 29 branches located throughout Mexico.
In terms of production, Grupo Ceres has plants in four different cities. Three of these are located in the state of Sinaloa: in Los Mochis, Culiacán, and Puerto de Topolobampo, respectively. The fourth plant can be found in Ciudad Obregón, which is in Sonora, a neighboring state to Sinaloa.
Each year, Grupo Ceres produces approximately 180,000 bags of seed, with each bag weighing around 20 kilograms. It also manufactures 200,000 tons of fertilizer mixes on an annual basis. It manages an estimated 65,000 tons of grain every year.
Elizondo has also relied on his hobby – the rearing and sale of horses – to help his business interests. Although this is not a mainstay, it has nonetheless enabled him to establish relationships. “I met my most important clients at the horse events,” says Elizondo. His Ranch Natoches is dedicated to the breeding and sale of 25 high-quality mares, some participating in the Racecourse of the Americas.
In addition, each year in Sinaloa, Group Ceres carries out Expo Ceres, one of the most important events of the year for agricultural producers in Northwest Mexico, with more than 14,000 participants representing 100 businesses, including suppliers and commercial associates of the Group.
The company also maintains a field where it experiments with improving regional agricultural products, including the planting of corn, bean, sorghum, tomato, Pope, Chiles of different varieties, and tomatillo, among others.
CUSTOMER FOCUS LEADS TO GROWTH
From its conception, Grupo Ceres has been dedicated to developing the best products and services for its clients. “We run operations in a very ethical manner,” says Elizondo. “Our main focus is to help the farmer become more productive. Clients quickly realize that we are there to solve their problems, and with us they will be able to increase their earnings.”
This customer focus, as well as an emphasis on efficiency, has led to fast growth for Grupo Ceres. During the last five years, the firm experienced a 92 percent increase in sales. While increasing sales, company officials have worked hard to lower costs and improve production processes. Over the next three years, the group plans to increase sales by another 40 percent.
Looking into the future, Elizondo says, “We’re working not only on developing our companies, but also on discovering new opportunities. We’re exploring possibilities related to energy and water technology. Our main objective, however, is to keep growing as a group, and to have each company continue to develop on an individual level.”
RECOGNIZING SOCIAL NEEDS
While the company plans to focus on growth during the coming years, it also recognizes its important role in Mexico’s society. “We believe the social aspect is an important one,” notes Elizondo. He has helped the group develop numerous ways to improve living conditions in the country.
“Our work has led to great economic benefits,” notes Elizondo. “We have a number of social programs to help those in need, and to help improve the quality of education.” One of these efforts has led to a foundation entitled “Fundación Carlos Elizondo.” This program supports teenagers from low economic backgrounds in their professional studies.
The attention that Grupo Ceres gives to its clients, together with its emphasis on social responsibility, has led to growth and success for this group of companies. And with Mexico’s current stable economy, the future holds many new possibilities for Grupo Ceres. As the firm enables farmers improve productivity, everyone benefits.