When Texas Tech University alumni Lance Barnett gets asked what he does for a living, he enjoys telling them, “I’m a banana farmer.” It is an unexpected answer that comes as surprise for most people, but Lance Barnett is much more than a banana famer. He is the Director of Tropical Quality, Food Safety, and Production Certifications for Chiquita Brands International.
Barnett graduated from Texas Tech in December of 1993 with a Bachelors of Science in Agricultural Economics and went on to obtain his Master’s of International Management from the School of Global Management (Thunderbird) in Glendale, Ariz. Barnett says, “One of the things I appreciated most about Texas Tech and especially the college of Agriculture was the opportunities I was given to develop leadership, public speaking and networking skills.”
At a young age, Barnett remembers working with his grandfather on their ranch in Goldthwaite, Texas and listening to the stories he told while they drove through the pasture. He says, “Through working with my grandfather and the Mexican workers on the ranch, I developed a strong interest in international agriculture.”
As a member of the Agri-Techsans, Barnett organized and initiated a minority recruitment program for the college. They visited several high schools in the state and increased interest and awareness of the College of Agriculture at Texas Tech. Barnett quickly realized that he enjoyed using his developing Spanish skills to recruit high school students to consider Texas Tech.
“International agriculture went from an idea to reality through study abroad opportunities offered by Texas Tech as well as mentorship from my professor, Dr. Edward Segarra,” Barnett says. He was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant to work in Mexico after graduation in 1993.
Barnett lived in San Miquel de Allende, Mexico for a year and worked with the Mexican secretary of agriculture research station. Barnett says, “Through living and working in Central Mexico, I was able to learn Spanish, experience an amazing culture, and spur my interest to pursue a career in international agriculture”. He was recruited by Chiquita directly out of graduate school for a tropical management position. He says, “My degree in agriculture from Texas Tech opened the door for me.” Along with his wife, Martha, and three sons, he now lives in San Jose, Costa Rica. Barnett is responsible for product quality and food safety in ten countries in Latin America and Africa. He also is in charge of farm and supply-chain metrics and improvement plans, waste reduction and company certification management.
Chiquita has over 40,000 acres of banana farms and employs over 18,000 people. The company sells over 10 billion bananas a year, which is almost enough for every person on the planet to have two bananas per year. Bananas are the item sold most in most grocery stores. In several regions where Chiquita works, Spanish is not the primary language. Barnett describes that the company has to translate many visual aids into local dialects. They use traffic lights (green, yellow and red) to communicate performance metrics with the workers.
He recently led a water purification project for Chiquita in Ivory Coast, West Africa. He describes it as one of the highlights of his career. Clean drinking water is one of the major health challenges in most of Africa. Barnett gathered funds from Chiquita employees and organized local talent and resources. The team was able to install water filtration and distribution for two of the communities that work on the local banana farms. He found the experience to be highly rewarding and says, “Hundreds of people’s daily water supply was improved via this support.” A good feeling was not the only thing Barnett had when he left the village.
Barnett has had the opportunity to travel to almost 20 countries while working at Chaquita, but he often misses Lubbock. Opposite of everything big in Texas, he said, “Everything is small in Costa Rica; the roads, the spaces, ranches and the sky”. Although he has learned to appreciate things in Costa Rica, such as taking his family hiking and to the beach and volcanoes, he misses Texas football, going to see concerts, and hunting and fishing.
Barnett’s background in agriculture and education from Texas Teach has proven to be beneficial to him during his career with Chiquita. Barnett says, “I can’t wait to take my kids to the campus one of these days.” He was able to realize his passion though opportunities given to him while at Texas Tech and has continued value his one-of-a-kind international experiences.