Mario’s bond with agriculture was rooted at birth; his passion for agribusiness is cultivating his future
Mario Ortez, a Ph.D. student in the department of agricultural economics, was born and raised in the mountains of Nicaragua into a family of coffee growers.
“From a young age, my brother Osler and I would spend our Christmas breaks from school walking around the hills and harvesting coffee on my dad’s farm,” said Mario. “My love story with working the land started then and set me up on a path in the agribusiness world that I am happily still on, and plan on continuing to be, after my graduation from Purdue.”
Mario completed a B.S. from Zamorano University, a M.S. from Kansas State, and is now working on his Ph.D. at Purdue - all with an emphasis in agricultural business. Yet, throughout that time, he has continued to bring the lessons he’s learned back to his dad’s farm.
“Once thing I was able to help in the later years was with payroll, I would prepare the cash that was due to each worker at the end of the work week. It was fun touching, what seemed to me then, a ton of money!
Mario also learned the importance of technique when harvesting coffee beans. “I learned that small things like safeguarding the welfare of coffee trees during harvest can have a large impact on the quality of the coffee beans and ultimately the health of the trees which will impact the farm’s future financial performance.”
Then in 2015, he took on a new venture.
“My brother and I, decided to acquire a small specialty coffee farmstead in northern Nicaragua and put to the test some of the classroom concepts that him and I have learned through the years, him on the agronomy side and myself on the business and marketing side. We both work hard on finding new markets and cultivating customer relationships on the coffee roasting side. This is very important for us because there are plenty of intermediaries that we could buy our coffee back home, but for a differentiated coffee like ours, it is better to connect with coffee shops and roaster either here in the U.S. or Europe which helps to get better prices, which in turns allows us to implement better practices in the farm, which can then improve coffee quality even more.”
Mario is now in his third year of Ph.D. studies at Purdue University but for a short time had to step back from his role in the business. “I have to say the first year of my Doctoral program was very busy for me, so Osler picked up the slack there!”
When asked about his next steps, Mario says he is passionate about finding a deeper understanding of agricultural business, whether it’s understanding supply chain management or consumer perceptions. For him, it is about improving the entire value chain.
“I am very fortunate to be a member of Dr. Nicole Olynk Widmar’s research team at Purdue University. Our team does a lot of work on consumer demand, consumer perceptions, production practices and how they are all related, which I greatly enjoy. Dr. Widmar’s and the rest of the team’s leadership and generosity with their time, skills, and other talents, have been instrumental for me during the past few years. I deeply admire this collaborative approach and work to model myself after.”
He was also an intern this past summer with Teays River Investments in Zionsville, Indiana, an investment company focused on a food and agriculture.
“At Teays, I collaborated with the team to look for opportunities to improve agricultural value chains. Creating value throughout the supply chain of various food and agricultural products benefits everyone - from producers all the way to consumers and we looked for opportunities to leverage the company’s resources to better serve the wide array of stakeholders involved in food and agriculture, with a special focus on serving consumer needs. I am very appreciative of the learning opportunity that I was given to collaborate with the Teays’ team this summer.”
But, through it all, Mario has not forgotten his roots.
“From my experiences as a kid in the coffee farm, my first Agribusiness Strategy lectures at Zamorano University as an undergrad, my industry experience in meat pricing, my Purdue experiences researching food markets, to my current family investments in agriculture, I developed a bond with this industry. I plan on devoting my efforts to continue strengthening it and advancing it. We will see where and how that takes place.”