Petroagro is a company built on that most relentless of natural forces, the power of a young man’s dream.
Roberto Coronel was just 24 when he established a seed distribution business in Carmen de Areco, a town two hours west of Buenos Aires. As the seed trade prospered, Roberto began planting his own seeds, focusing on speciality crops such as a pure variety of high-oleic sunflowers that has attracted the attention of many global buyers, including One Degree.
Fourteen years after the company’s founding, a seismic shock rattled the peaceful Argentine countryside, and Roberto’s thoughts once again turned to the wholesaling of seeds. It was 1996, the year Monsanto arrived in rural Argentina with tales of a new miracle seed it promised would bring great fortune and change lives. But the promises would prove hollow, and the change would not be good for the people or the land.
“Immediately I saw the consequences it would have, so I purchased a piece of land where I started cultivating seeds that are truly non-GMO,” Roberto says. “I saw that GMO seeds would have certain effects in terms of increased use of chemicals, which would impact the soil negatively. Farming organically, with pure seeds, allows me to pass on land that will be healthy and fertile far into the future.”
When Roberto talks of the future, he is really speaking of family. It is what motivates him to preserve the purity of seeds and the richness of his fields.
“It is very important to say that we are a family business, me and my wife Inés, my son, my daughter — she is married, my son-in-law is working with the family — we work as a family together.
“I grew up on a farm until I was 12, when I went to the city to study. It was always clear to me that my life’s work would be agriculture. My children have followed this same path. After completing their education in the city, they have returned to the family business. My son Marcos is in charge of quality control. My daughter Sofia manages human resources and my wife Inés handles legal aspects of the company. We also have a very good team of people working who understand the importance of traceability.”
Production manager Juan Manuel Quetglas agrees that the family character of Petroagro extends beyond the inner circle. “I enjoy working in a family business,” he says. “Before coming here, I worked for a multinational company, where everyone is just a number. The feeling here is completely different. I quickly embraced the shared commitment and responsibility for our goals, and was practically adopted into this family.
“As everywhere, we commit errors, but afterwards we forgive each other’s errors; we learn from each other so we can continue to grow. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere. I work together for instance with Marcos, the son of the owner, for one area he is the supervisor, but also he reports directly to me. He at the same time is my friend. This all can be combined together; we travel together, go to trade shows and we understand each other very well.
“I have known Roberto the owner for a long time. I’ve been in the business 20 years, and have known him for 18 years, long before I started at the company. It was my choice to work here; I selected it. Coming here and seeing the organic farming and organic practices was something that motivated me and helped me to keep going.
“My background is that I am an agricultural engineer and a designer of systems. Organic farming requires lots of systems, and they are not creating themselves; they need to be designed and managed.
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