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Javier Usabiaga, Mexico ag leader, dies at age 79

Javier Bernardo Usabiaga, a leader in Mexican agriculture, died Sept. 9 after a long battle with cancer.

From December 2000 to September 2005 he served as Mexico’s national secretary of agriculture under President Vincente Fox. He was the president of the Guanajuato vegetable grower-packer-exporter Comercializadora GAB. The firm is best-known for its Mr. Lucky label. Mr. Lucky is based in Irapuato, Guanajuato.Don-Javier-garlicJavier Bernardo Usabiaga

Mr. Usabiaga was a businessman and politician for the National Action Party in Mexico. His political career extended as Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development of the state of Guanajuato from 2012 until he retired in 2018.

According to information released to The Produce News by the company, he also served as a Federal Deputy of the 63th Legislature of the Mexican Congress as president of the Rural Development Commission.

The family-owned business noted that “Javier Usabiaga was respected internationally for his dedication to quality Mexican produce and devotion to food safety. Mr. Usabiaga was a titan of the produce industry. His passion and commitment were unparalleled.”

Born on Aug. 20, 1939 in Celaya, Mexico, he is survived by his wife, Teresa Gonzalez.

Among other surviving family members are three sons who run the family produce businesses: Miguel Usabiaga runs Mr. Lucky’s fresh and fresh-cut vegetable business; Jaime Usabiaga runs Covemex S.A. de C.V., which is a frozen vegetable operation; and Javier Usabiaga Jr. is in charge of the farming operation that supplies both Mr. Lucky and Covemex.

In a December 2015 interview in his Celaya office, Mr. Usabiaga was working establishing social responsibility certification standards for Guanajuato that would go into effect in 2016. Qualifying growers are entitled to use the certification stamp on their packaging.

At that time, Guanajuato had expanded to 100,000 acres in horticultural production. He said the industry’s links with U.S. produce growers started in 1945 as California garlic growers sought to expand their production options. The garlic roots “established relationships that in more cases became friendships over business.”  

Before long, General Foods and Birds Eye became involved in frozen Guanajuato broccoli. Mr. Usabiaga said that Guanajuato processors provide over 80 percent of the frozen broccoli consumed in the U.S.

About 2000, lettuce production “came after a lot of other fresh vegetables” in Guanajuato. “We proved they could be grown easily and competitive versus Arizona, so firms looked to Guanajuato as an opportunity.”

Mr. Usabiaga said that the strong national-brand customers encouraged the food-safety culture that is integral to Guanajuato’s vegetable industry. Formal-food safety standards, which were strongly encouraged for Guanajuato by Mr. Usabiaga, “are by far the most sophisticated of anywhere in Mexico” and ahead of many parts of the world, he said. Guanajuato exports its fresh and processed produce not only to the U.S. and Canada but to Japan, Germany and many other countries.