Corn is the staple food of most Mexicans and is grown on about one-third of the country's cultivated land. Central Mexico is the main area of corn cultivation. The size of the corn harvest varies significantly with weather conditions. In the 1992-93 growing season, about 8 million hectares were planted in corn, and 16.5 million tons were harvested, a slight increase over the previous year's output of 16.3 million tons. In 1994 the corn harvest amounted to 19.2 million tons.
Until the late 1980s, Mexico enjoyed corn self-sufficiency during years when the harvest was good. In 1990, however, demand exceeded supply by some 3.3 million tons and was met by imports. Thereafter, Mexico's import needs steadily fell to 1.9 million tons, at a cost of US$178 million in 1991 and 1.1 million tons in 1992. In 1993 Mexico imported just 400,000 tons of corn, almost all from the United States.
Wheat became more widely cultivated than it had been before, as bread replaced corn tortillas among Mexican consumers. There is little correlation between poor harvests of wheat and corn because each has different climatic requirements. The total area sown in wheat declined from 1.1 million hectares in 1986 to 714,000 hectares in 1993. Mexico's wheat output averaged slightly more than 4 million tons annually during the 1980s, fluctuating from 3.2 million tons in 1981, to 3.7 million tons in 1988, and to 4.4 million in 1989. Wheat production fell slightly from 3.7 million tons in 1992 to 3.6 million tons in 1994. For most of the 1980s, domestic wheat output was barely sufficient to satisfy internal demand. Mexico's wheat import requirement steadily grew from 260,000 tons (at a cost of US$46 million) in 1990 to 1.4 million tons in 1993.
Because the climatic requirements of sorghum are similar to those of corn, its output has undergone similar weather-based fluctuations. Mexico's sorghum production declined from 5.4 million tons in 1992 to 3.9 million tons in 1994. The land area sown in sorghum declined by more than half between 1989 and 1993, from 1.3 million hectares to 600,000 hectares. Mexico's import requirements for sorghum (almost all from the United States) consequently rose between the mid-1980s and early 1990s. Mexico imported 3.0 million tons of sorghum (at a cost of US$362 million) in both 1990 and 1991. Its import needs rose further to 5.0 million tons in 1992, then declined to 2.8 million tons in 1993.
The total land area sown in rice decreased from 192,000 hectares in 1986 to 50,000 hectares in 1993. Mexico's domestic output of milled rice fell steadily from 615,000 tons in 1986 to 312,000 tons in 1989. After rising slightly to 431,000 tons in 1990, rice output fell again to 246,000 tons in 1992, then recovered to 371,000 tons in 1993. Mexico imported substantial quantities of rice from the late 1980s through the early 1990s. In 1993 the country imported 350,000 tons of rice.
Beans are a basic staple food for most poor Mexicans. Mexico's domestic production of dry beans fell from 1.4 million tons in 1991 to 719,000 tons in 1992, then recovered to 1.5 million tons in 1994. In 1991 Mexico imported 125,000 tons of beans. The 1991 bean harvest covered 1.9 million hectares, the largest area sown in beans since the early 1980s.
Mexico's barley output fell steadily from 581,000 tons in 1991 to 325,000 tons in 1994. About 450,000 hectares were sown in barley in 1993. Annual production of oats remained steady throughout the early 1990s at 100,000 tons, and some 100,000 hectares were sown in oats each year.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fruit and vegetable production is concentrated in Mexico's irrigated northeast region and directed mainly to the United States winter market. In 1991 fruit and vegetable exports earned some US$935 million, 40 percent of Mexico's total export revenue. Fresh fruit and vegetables accounted for more of Mexico's agricultural export revenue than did coffee by the early 1990s. Processed food exports grew at an average annual rate of nearly 13 percent in the early 1990s.
Mexico produced 2.7 million tons of oranges in 1993, followed by apples (580,000 tons), table grapes (270,000 tons), tangerines (185,000 tons), grapefruit (118,000 tons), pears (32,000 tons), and raisins (13,000 tons). It also produced considerable quantities of bananas, mangoes, lemons, limes, watermelons, peaches, nectarines, plums, avocados, pineapples, and strawberries.
Mexico's output of fresh tomatoes declined from 1.7 million tons in 1990 to 1.4 million tons in 1993. During the same period,the total area harvested in tomatoes fell from 74,200 hectares to 58,500 hectares.
Data as of June 1996