A nopal producer checks his crop. A nopal producer checks his plants.

Cold weather destroys 70% of nopal crop

It was going to be a good harvest until frost arrived in Mexico City's Milpa Alta borough

A cold front that delivered low temperatures to much of Mexico earlier this month also caused widespread damage to nopal, or prickly pear, crops in the south of Mexico City.

More than 70% of nopal production in Milpa Alta — the capital’s southernmost and most rural borough — was lost due to single-digit temperatures and overnight freezes on December 9, 10 and 11. The bulk of the edible cactus pads that are sold in Mexico City are grown there.

“A good season was on its way until we got the frost,” local producer Juan Alonso Peralta told the newspaper Milenio.

Peralta’s nopal plants are spread over four hectares of land in Milpa Alta and during the harvest season he picks between 500 and 600 kilograms daily. Most of the yield is transported to the city’s huge wholesale market, the Central de Abasto, and another local market.

However, this year most of his crop was lost, meaning that he will lose the majority of his income as well.

“I had scheduled to harvest my crop of around 300 tonnes between December and January but now we only have 30 or 40 tonnes . . .” he lamented.

“The nopales turn yellow, 90% of the nopal is water. When the temperatures drop . . . the nopal loses its consistency, and it’s not possible to sell it . . .[because] it’s not edible anymore.

“It’s the only source of income we have,” he explained.

Several other producers in the borough are in a similar situation. One is Joel Cruz, who along with his family cultivates four hectares of nopal in the San Pedro Atocpan area.

“. . . the cold came, the nopales froze, they dried out and they’re rotting . . .” he said.

Cruz also complained that he had lost his source of income but was grateful that personnel from the Mexico City Rural Development Secretariat (Sederec) had responded quickly to their predicament.

Between December 13 and 22, Sederec staff and insurance company representatives carried out inspections to assess damage across almost 2,000 plots of land in the borough.

Growers are hopeful they will receive insurance payouts via the city government to mitigate their losses but any compensation before the end of the year looks unlikely.

“The insurance policies cover approximately 1,300 to 1,500 pesos [US $65 to $75] per hectare,” Sederec official Cecilia Cruz García said.

However, she added that “we don’t have the records yet because the engineers are only just determining the extent of the damage.

“Sometimes it takes a little while because it’s the end of the year.”

Affected growers will most likely receive compensation sometime in the first quarter of 2018, Cruz said, but producers are not convinced that it will make up for their loss.

“1,500 pesos per hectare for a farmer is minimal, the amount the insurance company gives is very little. We’re going to be without production for almost two months . . .” Peralta said.

Due to a shortage in Mexico City markets, the price of a single nopal paddle has shot up from one to 2.50 pesos but the Milpa Alta farmers, with little or no product to sell, are not benefiting from the price hike.

“One of the states that is producing [nopal] is Morelos, they’re the ones that are supplying at the moment. It doesn’t benefit us, it harms us because we don’t have work,” Joel Cruz said.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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