TBY talks to Didier Rodríguez González, General Manager of Agrocosta SA, on the importance of innovation for the company, its expansion plans, and the future of the sector.

Didier Rodríguez González
Didier Rodríguez González has been Director of Agrocosta SA for 40 years. He is co-founder of the Hubbard College of Administration of Costa Rica, and of several agricultural companies. He was Director of Cantonal Agricultural Centers and in the Chambers of Agricultural Supplies and the Chamber of Generic Producers. In addition, he has been a board member of the College of Agricultural Engineers of Costa Rica and was President of the Coopecerroazul Coffee Growers Cooperative RL and Regente Agrícola in Agrocosta SA. He has a degree in agricultural engineering from the Technological Institute of Costa Rica.

How important is new technology and innovation for Agrocosta?

All our chemical products are in high demand; however, in the last few years we have focused much on exploiting our differentiating points in comparison to our competition; we strengthened our ties with farmers in order to boost innovation and develop the products they need. We have put innovation at the forefront of our development and we invest heavily in new technologies, too. These efforts have enabled us to differentiate ourselves from both local and transnational competitors. We cannot compete with the latter in terms of capacity. Our main objective is to make our farmers more productive and competitive in a global market. In this context, we have the local knowledge, whether of climate, tropical diseases, or the needs of local farmers, we use that knowledge applying it to new technologies as our main competitive advantage. Sometimes it gets a little complicated, as producers usually incline to use what is known already and we have to convince them to change their current systems and technologies. This means a great deal of work and investment in promotion. Such efforts have definitely paid off, as the brand image we have built over the years is that of a company based on innovation and new technology. Throughout time, we have developed new products and have gained the trust and recognition of many customers, opening the doors to new markets. In order to increase the number of producers using our product, we have to invest in research, as it is necessary to do some testing in the labs, in the fields of the producers and in their markets of operation. Our focus is on biodegradable and organic products, which enables us to reach both organic and traditional producers. Our investment in innovation is also to prevent other companies from copying what we do, making us unique with innovative products.

Who are your main customers and partners in Costa Rica?

We work with the private sector, so our main partners are distributors. For example, some of our distributors are CoopeVictoria, Almacenes Dos Pinos, Coseinca, Agroirazu, El Surco, El Exito, and Cámara de Productores de Caña del Pacífico, among others. We work closely with them in order to develop, introduce, and distribute our products.

Some of your products are being exported. What are the main regional markets you work in and what plans do you have at the international level?

Our main regional markets are Panama and Nicaragua. We focus on these two because we share a language, culture and proximity to them. In the future, we want to consolidate business in these countries and enter the US market. There are large agricultural extensions in Florida where we would first start; thanks to the boom in organic products, we would have plenty of opportunities in that market. Such efforts are gradually carried out and require finding the right producers to conduct our field testing prior to fully entering the market.

The average age of producers in Costa Rica is 54 for men and 52 for women. How do you see the future of the agriculture industry in the country?

It all depends on the professionalism of the people working in the industry. With the arrival of a new generation, we will see a change of mentality; we will go to a more industrial approach to agriculture activity rather than just survival. This goes along with the needs and demands of consumers; they ask for better quality and cheaper products. We need to see the arrival of more professional farmers in terms of people with educations who have an understanding of how to use new technologies. This will enable them to be more competitive and efficient. We understand that small producers face the greatest challenges, which is why we focus on them. We want to be part of their transition and adaptation period, as there is no way back.